HOLLYWOOD – Kirsten Doney, 20, and Thomlynn Billie, 16, were crowned Miss Florida Seminole and Jr. Miss Florida Seminole, respectively, July 23 at the 59th annual Miss Florida Seminole Princess Pageant at the headquarters auditorium in Hollywood. The two were the only contestants this year.
“This is more of a coronation than a competition,” said Wanda Bowers, chairwoman of the Princess Pageant Committee. “These two girls are ready.”
It was Kirsten’s second time competing for Miss Florida Seminole and Thomlynn’s fifth year vying for Jr. Miss Florida Seminole.
Tribal Secretary Lavonne Rose will present a resolution to Council recognizing Kirsten and Thomlynn as Princesses, similar to what was done in 1964 when Priscilla Doctor Sayen was named Miss Florida Seminole.
“We seek to empower young ladies as ambassadors of our Tribe,” Rose said. “Tonight’s program is not a competition but an exhibition of their hard work.”
Kirsten, of Brighton, and Thomlynn, of Big Cypress, worked diligently to prepare for the pageant and were proud to be named Seminole royalty. Each has a clear vision for their reigns.
“I want to be the Princess who held her head high always and shared her culture and history to the best of her ability,” said Kirsten, a sophomore at Tallahassee Community College majoring in sports management. “This is a big title and even though it isn’t a competition, I’m still going to perform as if it is.”
Thomlynn plans to be an active Jr. Miss Seminole who helps break through Indian stereotypes.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, no one likes to have a label,” she said.
The pageant is familiar territory for the Ahfachkee School junior, whose sister Alice Billie was Miss Florida Seminole 1997. Thomlynn always wanted to follow in her footsteps.
“Even if it wasn’t a family tradition, I would still do this pageant,” Thomlynn said. “Even though there are just two of us, we are still doing the whole pageant. I’m going to do my best and even if there were other contestants, I think I’d be chosen.”
Whether there are two contestants or 20, the pageant is organized in the same way; they model traditional patchwork dresses, demonstrate a cultural skill and answer impromptu questions about Tribal history, structure and ways to improve the community.
For her cultural talent presentation, Kirsten sang “This Land is Your Land” in Creek.
“It’s way out of my comfort zone, but sometimes it’s better to step out of your comfort zone,” she said. “That’s when great things happen.”
Thomlynn’s talent was storytelling. She told a story about a mother whose two daughters’ hearts were taken while they slept. The mother asked for help and two mice said they could get the hearts back, but she resisted. As the deadline neared for retrieving the hearts, she accepted the mice’s help and celebrated the return of her daughters’ hearts.
“The moral of the story is we must believe in others and get help when we ask for it, but most of all not to give up any hope,” Thomlynn said.
A gifted artist, Thomlynn illustrated the story with drawings that were projected on a screen behind her as she spoke.
Emcees Wovoka Tommie and Lewis Gopher kept the show moving with commentary interspersed between events.
“It’s a big responsibility to represent the Seminole Tribe,” Tommie said. “They will become strong women; this is like a stepping stone in their lives.”
Outgoing Miss Florida Seminole Destiny Nunez and Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Skyla Osceola held the basket as the contestants randomly chose their impromptu questions; Thomlynn’s asked what she believed was the most important aspect of Seminole culture.
“Language; I’d like to preserve it,” she said. “We have culture classes in school and if you need to go to the restroom, you have to speak in our language or you have to hold it. Also, I’d like to learn so I can speak to my grandmother.”
Kirsten’s question had her name all the Tribal officials, their positions and the reservations they serve. She nailed it and received hearty applause for her accomplishment.
Before the new Princesses were crowned, the outgoing pair gave emotional farewell speeches. Skyla was thankful for the year filled with positive experiences.
Destiny was sad to give up her crown, but thanks to the confidence she gained through her reign, she is ready to participate and give back to the community.
“I remember sitting backstage scared,” Destiny said. “The transformation from last year to now has been amazing. I’m so proud of myself.”
Kirsten and Thomlynn beamed through tears of joy as they were crowned and posed for photos in the auditorium filled with family, friends and well-wishers.
Before the pageant began, Kirsten talked about its importance to the Tribe.
“I want to get girls more involved,” she said. “[The pageant] is our culture and tradition. We need to keep this going and keep it alive.”