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Princesses step up to serve another year

Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Aubee Billie, left, and Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie, shown here at the FSU homecoming football game Oct. 26, 2019, will serve another year as the Tribe’s royalty after this year’s Princess Pageant, which was slated to be held Aug. 1, was cancelled due to the pandemic. (Kevin Johnson photo)

HOLLYWOOD — The Seminole Princess Pageant – one of the most important and highly anticipated annual events on the Tribe’s calendar – won’t be crowning a new Miss Florida Seminole or Jr. Miss Florida Seminole this year.


Pageant week was scheduled to be held during the last week of July culminating with pageant night on Aug. 1 at Tribal headquarters’ auditorium, but all activities have been cancelled as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the world throughout 2020, including hard-hit South Florida.


If there is a silver lining in the cancellation, it’s that the duties of the princesses will remain in good hands for the 2020-21 year. The reigns of current Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie and Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Aubee Billie have been extended for another year.


“It is unfortunate that a decision like this needs to be made, but I couldn’t be more pleased to have both of these exceptional Seminole women represent the Seminole Tribe of Florida for another year,” said LaVonne Rose, director of the Princess Program. “They are truly a joy to collaborate with because they always bring a positive attitude and strong sense of self to their title. The remaining half of 2020 could be challenging, but my hope for them is to make virtual appearances. We have the ability to be creative with their reign through social media and virtual meeting applications. The Princess Program is very proud and excited to work with Durante and Aubee for the 2020-21 year.”

“While it’s an unexpected opportunity, I’m grateful to have the chance to continue my dedication as Princess for another year,” Durante said in an email to the Tribune. “I’m honored by the offer to extend my reign and I’m committed to serve with responsibility, hard work, and accountability. I’m so glad to share this opportunity with Aubee, she’s like a sister to me and it’s been an honor to see her leadership grow. I’m thankful for another year as Princess beside her.”

Durante, 23, is a 2019 graduate of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she earned a Master of Arts in art history and management. Aubee, 17, is entering her senior year at The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach. She has starred in several of the school’s theatrical productions and plans to pursue musical theatre in college.

While the princesses gladly accepted another year of representing the Tribe, they expressed sadness that others won’t have the chance to compete for the titles this year and serve as princesses.


“I felt so bad for the girls who didn’t get this opportunity for the upcoming year. The experiences you know you will never forget, especially if you make the type of bond Durante and I made,” Aubee said.


“I’d like to tell the Seminole girls and women who planned to compete that your drive and dedication to your people will always be seen and appreciated by our Tribe, even when it can’t be showcased through a pageant,” Durante said. “The work and time you and your loved ones have put into preparing for this pageant is an accomplishment that you all deserve to have been able to display on pageant night. It’s difficult to dedicate work and to prioritize the things in your life for something that can’t go as planned. I’m sincerely sorry that an opportunity not just to compete but to serve as Miss and Jr. Miss has been postponed.”
She encouraged those who planned to compete to do good work in their own communities and families.


“Know that you are all leaders in our community regardless of titles and crowns,” she said. “You already have so much to offer to our people that doing what is best for you this year, whether that means being involved in a youth council, starting your own community project, or helping your siblings with school, has so much power for the good of our Tribe.”


For contestants, the camaraderie that emerges each year during pageant week is a valuable part of the entire program. Although the pandemic has robbed the contestants of creating friendships in person, Durante said she and Aubee would like to organize connections virtually.


“I know one of the main draws of the pageant is to be able to spend time with the other girls and even meet new friends,” Durante said. “It’s a week-long event and by the end of it, all the contestants really feel like a group of sisters.”


The sisterly bond formed between Durante and Aubee has been remarkably strong as they represented the Tribe during the past 12 months at tribal functions, pow wows, Hard Rock openings and Florida State’s homecoming, to name just a few. Aubee said she had planned to attend the Miss Indian World Pageant in New Mexico to support Durante’s bid to keep the MIW title in Seminole hands, but the pageant was called off in April. Former Miss Florida Seminole Cheyenne Kippenberger became the first member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to win Miss Indian World crown in 2019.


“It was sad to see it cancelled. We wanted to see another Seminole Princess be where Cheyenne is right now. Durante is an amazing candidate for it,” Aubee said.


Similar to the Seminole Princesses situation, Kippenberger agreed to serve another year as Miss Indian World.


Despite the MIW pageant cancellation, Durante said she enjoyed the preparations.


“I was able to learn to dance Southern Cloth, which is definitely something that was prompted by the structure of the pageant,” she said. “Also I was still able to connect with the great Native women that would have been there competing alongside me, which I’m most grateful for. I’d also like to say thank you to the current MIW Cheyenne for taking the time to answer all my random questions about the pageant and offering to help when I was preparing.”


Durante and Aubee said one of their goals in the upcoming year is to continue their involvement in Tribal communities and getting to know more people, and, of course in these times, doing so safely.


“I hope everyone stays safe amid this pandemic,” Durante said. “Protecting our communities and elders must be a priority. Take the time to make sure you are well mentally, spiritually, and physically.”

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Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at kevinjohnson@semtribe.com.
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