61st Miss Navajo Nation will focus on youth, revitalize Diné language

(Times photo - Donovan Quintero)

By Alastair Lee Bitsóí
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 12, 2013

Text size: A A A

Even though the last two reigning Miss Navajos won the Best Butcher Award, it doesn't necessarily guarantee you'll be the next ambassador for the Navajo people.

That's' what Hunters Point, Ariz., native Natasha Hardy thought, when her and Versheena Dempsey, winner of this year's Best Butcher Award, were the last two contestants standing, before Hardy was announced as the winner of the 2013-2014 Miss Navajo Nation pageant last Saturday.

"It thought it was a sure win being the Best Butcher-er," Hardy told the Navajo Times on Wednesday.

It wasn't until when Dempsey's name was called for first runner-up honors that Hardy began to realize that her second attempt at the title finally materialized into reality.

"Wait, I am," she remembers thinking. "It was an exciting moment."

Hardy, 24, won the crown Saturday evening in front of a large audience at the coronation ceremony, held in a tent behind the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise, pageant sponsor.

"Oh, my gosh," exclaimed Hardy, as tears were streaming down her checks in her 10-minute acceptance speech. "This is something else."

Hardy is the daughter of Katherine and Gerald Nez of Hunters Point, Ariz.

Her mother, who was also crying, was in disbelief of her daughter's title victory, saying, "I can't even say anything. I thought Dempsey won it and there she was."

"I never doubted her," her father added smiling gleefully.

She is Kinyaa'aanii (Towering House Clan), born for Pima-Tachii'nii (Red Running into Water Clan). Her maternal grandfather is Hashk'aa Hadzoho (Yucca Fruit Clan), and her paternal grandfather is Naakai (Mexican Clan). She is the eldest of four sisters, who include Ernestine Nez, Sheridan Nez and Latisha Hardy.

All three of Hardy's sisters have held tribal royalty titles, and now she joins them with the most prestigious one of them all.

"They tease me now saying I got the biggest one," she said with laughter.

As Miss Navajo Nation, Hardy plans to revitalize the Navajo language and culture among all facets of Navajo society, particularly the youth, the future of the Navajo Nation.

"Please talk to your kids in Navajo," she said to the hundreds of pageant-goers in attendance during her coronation speech. "Don't be embarrassed to speak Navajo."

To reach out to youth, Hardy plans to organize youth conferences focused on Navajo culture and will use every opportunity to talk with parents about the importance of teaching their children Navajo.

"Parents are our first teachers," she said, adding that learning and speaking Navajo helps individuals understand their existence in the universe and teachings of the Navajo people.

In a close contest of eight contestants, Hardy beat out first runner-up Dempsey, of Lukachukai, Ariz., and second runner-up Lailauni Moore, of Wheatfields, Ariz.

The Miss Congeniality award went to Moore and the Best Essay award went to Brittney Hunt, of Shonto, Ariz.

Dempsey won the Best Butcher award, while Cherish Tso of Chinle won the Miss Photogenic award.

Hunt, Tso, Joni Pino, of Twin Lakes, N.M., Darian Isaac of Hard Rock, Ariz., and Wallita Begay, of Oljato, Utah, received honorable mention.

For her traditional skills and talent, the new Miss Navajo Nation sang a Blessing Way song, which emphasized the importance of understanding all living systems through the Navajo principle of Sa'ah Naaghai Bik'eh Hozhoon. She also demonstrated the entire process of tying a young woman's hair during a Kinaalda puberty ceremony by having her sister Sheridan dress-up and wear her hair according to how a young woman would during this milestone of Navajo womanhood.

"A lot of young girls don't know the meaning behind it," Hardy said about the Kinaalda ceremony and tools used during this sacred time for Navajo woman.

Hardy, who learned to speak Navajo from her grandparents and parents, also demonstrated how to sew a grandma's skirt and played the violin for her contemporary talent and skills.

Asked how she feels about being the new ambassador for the tribe, she said, "It feels like I accomplished so much. I'm a role model to so many young kids. It keeps me in check."

Hardy is the 61st Miss Navajo ever to win the coveted title, 61 years after the first Miss Navajo, Dr. Beulah Melvin Allen, won it in 1952.

Contact Alastair L. Bitsóí at 928-871-1141 or email abitsoi@navajotimes.com.