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Miss Indian World farewell: Powwow ‘full circle’ moment for Cheyenne Kippenberger

Cheyenne Kippenberger is recognized on the Gathering of Nations’ powwow floor on the event’s final night April 30, accompanied by hundreds of tribal dancers and drummers, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo Damon Scott)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Scores of fans and supporters came for a hug, to say hello, and to take pictures with the Seminole Tribe’s outgoing Miss Indian World, Cheyenne Kippenberger, at the 2022 Gathering of Nations powwow from April 28 to April 30 in Albuquerque.

It was another trip filled with a flurry of activities – appearances, speeches, and a grand finale, front-of- the-line moment at the event’s final grand entry – where hundreds of dancers and drummers from across Indian Country gather on the floor of Tingley Coliseum at the Expo New Mexico fairgrounds in front of thousands of spectators. Soon after, a new Miss Indian World, Kippenberger’s replacement, would be crowned to end the night.

“I appreciate all of you who came to share this with me. Being here is such a full-circle moment,” Kippenberger said at one of her appearances at the Stage 49 music venue.

Her father, Joe Kippenberger; grandmother, Lawanna Osceola; and brother, Dante Kippenberger were sitting nearby.

Kippenberger’s reign as Miss Indian World from 2019 to 2021 was historic in at least two ways. She was the first Miss Indian World from the Seminole Tribe and due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the first to be asked to extend her reign for an additional year. The pandemic brought the Gathering of Nations event and the Miss Indian World competition to a halt in 2020 and 2021.

A video montage of Kippenberger’s journey as the 36th Miss Indian World was produced by Seminole Media Productions and was broadcast for attendees at various times throughout the weekend.

“It makes me cry every time I see it,” Kippenberger said. “The Gathering of Nations organization and Miss Indian World committee has really made this special for me.”

Kippenberger’s first year involved a lot of travel and in-person events across the U.S. and even in New Zealand. The second year would become a mostly virtual one, with Kippenberger setting up a media studio in her living room to accommodate requests to appear at virtual events through Zoom and on social media.

She used her reign as an opportunity to speak out on a number of issues – including stigmas around mental health.

“I chose to pursue initiatives that were very personal to me. I have experienced the shame and guilt of mental health,” she said at one of her final appearances. “When you’re having those moments where it may not seem like you can’t get through it, you can, because you are strong, you are powerful, and you are capable.”

Kippenberger spoke in front of the U.S. Congress and made appearances in scores of classrooms and at many conferences. Her audiences ranged from handfuls of people in personal settings to hundreds of Natives across Indian Country.

“I’m so proud to be who I am, to have shared with the world who the unconquered Seminole Tribe of Florida is,” she said. “It was so important to me to show what it is to be a modern Native woman. I wanted to show through being transparent and being honest, especially on social media, that’s it’s OK to just be you.”

After Kippenberger’s final grand entry at Tingley Coliseum, Tashina Red Hawk (Sicangu Lakota Nation/Rosebud Sioux Tribe) was crowned the 2022-2023 Miss Indian World.

Seminole talent, support on display

Several tribal members made the trip from Florida to support Kippenberger, and to see two Seminole musicians perform on Stage 49 – Doc Native and Carradine Billie. Native and Billie are both Native American Music Award (NAMA)-nominated musicians who perform songs in the hip-hop and rap genre, with lyrics that often speak to their Seminole heritage.

Native is from the Hollywood Reservation, while Billie, whose stage name is “Seminole Prince,” is from the
Big Cypress Reservation.

“I’m a South Florida boy and it’s straight humidity out there. I’ll tell you, the humidity is so bad you have to take three showers before you hit the grocery store,” Native joked with the crowd who came to see him perform. “I’m all the way from Hollywood, Florida, and the Seminole Tribe – a proud member of the Panther Clan.”

Everett Osceola, a cultural ambassador for the tribe, was also at the event to support Kippenberger, Native and Billie. The film buff also talked to attendees about the Native Reel Cinema Festival, which he co-created.

Others from Hollywood in attendance were Wanda Bowers, who formerly oversaw the tribe’s princess program while Kippenberger was running, and Hollywood Board Rep. Christine McCall, who is also a former Miss Florida Seminole.

Pageantry and beyond

At press time, Kippenberger was preparing to compete as Miss Hollywood USA for the Miss Florida USA crown – also a first for the tribe. The three-day competition from May 27 to May 29 was scheduled to be held in Coral Springs with the winner to advance to the Miss USA pageant.

Kippenberger is also busy as the communications lead for the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) – a national nonprofit at the Aspen Institute. She is also a peer guide for UNITY – the United National Indian Tribal Youth organization.

Soon after departing Gathering of Nations, she took part in the inaugural “Aspen Ideas: Climate” conference in Miami Beach. She spoke about the environment and was part of a roundtable discussion focused on youth mobilization and the need for younger voices in the climate justice movement.

“I have been traveling a lot to judge pageants, and to present and speak at different events. I’m hoping to somehow find time in between all of this to get back into school,” Kippenberger said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that Everett Osceola created the Native Reel Cinema Festival. He is a co-creator.

Cheyenne Kippenberger and her father, Joe, watch a tribute video to Cheyenne at the Gathering of Nations. (Photo Damon Scott)
Cheyenne Kippenberger speaks at the Gathering of Nations’ powwow in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo Damon Scott)
Cheyenne Kippenberger gets emotional after a video montage of her Miss Indian World reign was broadcast at one of her public appearances. (Photo Damon Scott)
Seminole cultural ambassador Everett Osceola spreads the word about one of his projects, the Native Reels Cinema Festival. (Photo Damon Scott)
Cheyenne Kippenberger’s father, Joe Kippenberger, and her grandmother, Lawanna Osceola, traveled to Albuquerque to support Kippenberger. (Courtesy photo)
From left to right are Wanda Bowers, Cheyenne Kippenberger and Hollywood Board Rep. Christine McCall. (Photo Damon Scott)
Tashina Red Hawk (Sicangu Lakota) was crowned the new Miss Indian World. (Courtesy Gathering of Nations)
Seminole musician Doc Native performs on Stage 49 on the Expo New Mexico fairgrounds. (Photo Damon Scott)
Seminole musician Doc Native performs on Stage 49 on the Expo New Mexico fairgrounds. (Photo Damon Scott)

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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