ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There were nerves and anticipation for days. And in the end, the final result reverberated across Indian Country.
For the first time in history, Miss Indian World is a member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida – Miss Florida Seminole Cheyenne Kippenberger.
Kippenberger earned the prestigious title after months and months of preparation and four days of intense (and friendly) competition among 17 contestants.
The 23-year-old was crowned Miss Indian World April 27 at the Gathering of Nations Powwow at Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The announcement came in front of a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 people and 3,600 registered dancers from hundreds of Tribal Nations.
Kippenberger had plenty of Seminole supporters in Albuquerque, too, including members of Tribal Council and a group of seniors from the Big Cypress Reservation, among others.
“I’m feeling extremely overwhelmed with happiness and love,” Kippenberger said. “I’m so proud to be Seminole and to have my community behind me in support. I promise to hold this title proudly and represent my people and all Indigenous People honorably.”
Family members and friends were in the audience as was Wanda Bowers, who oversees the Tribe’s princess program and has been alongside Kippenberger every step of the way.
“After all these years that I’ve been bringing my Tribal princess to compete in the Miss Indian World, it was all worth the wait,” Bowers said. “She is an awesome Miss Florida Seminole and now she will be a phenomenal Miss Indian World who will represent her people near and far with a big heart and tremendous pride.”
Kippenberger, from the Hollywood Reservation, is now the 36th Miss Indian World. She is the daughter of Joe and Susan Kippenberger and a graduate of Keiser University in Fort Lauderdale.
The Miss Indian World pageant – held since 1984 – takes place each year at the Gathering of Nations, the world’s largest Native American powwow.
From its beginnings, young Native American women between the ages of 18 and 25 travel from around the U.S. and Canada to represent their tribes and compete for the coveted crown.
The purpose of the journey to the title is to give the young women a chance to showcase the culture and traditions of their tribes. The contestants serve as cultural ambassadors of their respective tribes and of Native Americans in general. They are expected to show poise, pride and positivity, and work to keep the diverse cultures of Native Peoples alive and thriving.
To qualify in the first place, contestants must be of Native or Indigenous American descent, be single with no kids, and have never been married.
The Miss Indian World pageant has a reputation for crowning winners who have a deep understanding of their tribe’s traditions, history, ancestors and culture.
Kippenberger did not disappoint in any of those expectations.
Throughout the four-day competition, contestants accumulate points based on how they do in the categories of public speaking, traditional talent, personal interview, written essay and dance. Kippenberger garnered the most cumulative points of all the contestants.
In addition to the title, contestants qualify for individual awards based on their scores. Kippenberger not only won the overall title, but also took the top award for best personal interview and traditional talent – a demonstration of a traditional Seminole hairstyling.
The first runner-up was Cordelia Falls Down of the Crow and United Keetowah Band Tribes, Crow Agency, Montana. Other contestants hailed from across the country and Canada.
Kippenberger was crowned by the outgoing Miss Indian World – Taylor Susan – of the White Mountain Apache/Walker River Paiute Tribes in White River, Arizona.
“The title of Miss Indian World is iconic and shall always be distinctly a part of the Gathering of Nations Ltd.,” Gathering of Nations directors said in a statement. “We are proud of all 17 contestants and look forward to working with Cheyenne Kippenberger this year as she travels Indian Country representing all Native women and the Gathering of Nations organization.”
For much more about the competition, including photos and Kippenberger’s journey to the crown, pick up the May 31, 2019, edition of The Seminole Tribune.