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Seminole Tribe’s first Miss Indian World looks back at 2-year reign

Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger poses in Salt Lake City. Her two years as MIW will end in April. (Photo Jarrette Werk)

As Cheyenne Kippenberger prepares for the end of her extended reign as Miss Indian World, she shared some highlights from her two years of wearing the crown.

Crowned MIW for a one-year term in April 2019 at the Gathering of Nations Powwow, Kippenberger’s position was
extended for a second year when the pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 pageant. The MIW pageant has been canceled again for 2021, but will he held in 2022. Gathering of Nations will be a livestreamed event from April 23-24 and will include a “Special Farewell to Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger.”

Kippenberger, the first Seminole to serve as MIW, recently spoke with the Tribune.

As Miss Indian World, how did you meet with people during the pandemic?

This year I’ve connected with more people, groups and communities than I would have been able to do in my first year just by getting on Zoom or WebEx.

In the beginning I was trying to find my footing, my style and figure out how I could bring that same energy I would have if we were in the same room together. It was difficult, I had to come up with different ways to be engaging and capture the audience. My [Miss Indian World] committee helped a lot. Eventually I found my style of presenting.

I used to have to get on a plane for six or eight hours to get anywhere. This brought the opportunity to go to a lot of different places I wouldn’t have been able to go previously. I put all my energy into every presentation, they deserve that from Miss Indian World.

In the beginning it was weird. I am used to walking around a room and engaging with everyone. I had to be creative and come up with another way to get people’s attention. This is where the beauty of technology comes in. I had to maintain a consistent and large presence online on Facebook and Instagram. Indian Country was my audience and social media was the most effective way to reach them.

I had pop quizzes and surveys on Instagram and let people ask me about me and my reign. At Christmas time, we couldn’t be with our families and I wanted to give something back to the community for anyone at any age. I came up with the Miss Indian World cake contest. I made a Facebook page and organized a contest throughout Indian Country, including Canada, for three age categories. We had about 90 people enter. I did a second one on Valentine’s Day.

Initially I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t think anyone would be thinking about Miss Indian World. Once I started
doing virtual events and conferences, event invitations started coming in. Being able to connect has been good medicine for myself and it helped us all get through this pandemic.

What were some of the highlights of your time as Miss Indian World?

Being able to connect with our people the way I’ve been able to, I’m so blessed to think I’ve come out of Miss Indian World with more family. I’ve had the honor of being adopted into a Cheyenne family in Oklahoma, went to New Zealand with the crown and was honored with a holiday “Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger Day” on August 2 in El Reno, Oklahoma, and got a key to the city, too.

How did virtual appearances differ from in person events?

Native people are very communal. We have an understanding that wherever we are, we connect. It’s like being with
family. Our communities haven’t been able to get together in about a year. It’s been hard not to come together and hug each other. Indian Day, pow wows, conferences, pageants; these are things we look forward to all year long. Our annual schedules have been abruptly stopped. It’s just hard for community-oriented people, it really hurts. I haven’t seen friends in over a year; it’s been hard on my heart and my emotions. Trying to bring a little sense of normalcy and a glimmer of hope to people goes a long way.

What were some challenges of serving as MIW?

Being away from our people, friends and relatives. I’m a huge people person and it’s been hard not to be able to connect in person. We are always going to go through tough things, but we are tough people. I have a new found gratitude for our community. It’s important to take care of each other and really appreciate that we are who we are, which is Seminole. Let’s be a stronger community for each other.

Another challenge over the two years has been believing that I can do this and be the best Miss Indian World I can be. I am going to leave my own legacy. I am someone who has been so supported, I need to remember to be kind to myself and believe in myself.

What was the best experience during your reign?

I’d like to pinpoint one event, but the entire experience is absolutely incredible. Whether meeting with elders or youth, it’s special to carry the title of Miss Indian World and use this platform in the best way I can. I used it to talk about mental health and representation. It was important to be authentic, be real with the audience and talk about things we all experience. Just be the best person you can be for the well-being of the world.

Going from being Miss Florida Seminole to Miss Indian World made me look at the bigger picture. Our communities all experience similar things around the country and the world. There is so much power in our people uniting, empowering each other, connecting and uplifting voices. I let my platform be utilized for all good things.

What did you learn about Indian Country that you didn’t know before?

One thing that never ceased to surprise me is no matter what community I go to, at the core of our people, teachings and morals we share the same values. Community, respect, love and kindness. I’ve seen it everywhere, I felt it in the hospitality I’ve received and the family I was adopted into. It’s the beauty of being Indigenous, no matter where you are from. Indian Country is small but you don’t realize it until you travel around. You feel the love and it makes you appreciate who you are and how you are raised. I’ve always reminded myself I represent my family, my ancestors and my tribe. I can feel that everywhere I go, even on virtual visits.

What are you going to do next?

MIW has given me such an insight into who I am and who I want to be. Before Miss Florida Seminole, I was studying accounting but never felt fulfilled. Now I am sure of who I am and what I want to be. I want to study public health and help people. I want to represent; I am going to show the non-Indian world who we are.

A lot of what I was doing [as MIW] was talking about commonalities in our communities, health, social and economic
issues. All of these things fall under public health. There is a lack of data about Native Americans so who better to go after those things than a Native woman. We see that raising our kids with culture, elders and around our people and our ways is a positive thing. I want to give them peer-reviewed information that isn’t out there. For the first time in my life I have direction. I never knew what my purpose was. I want to take my own and our peoples’ experience and put it forward.

MIW has given me the confidence and belief in myself that I can do these things. There is a fierceness and a feistiness to me and I’m going to use that. I want to share our stories. I want to be that platform.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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