By Marie Haka
It included an evening-gown competition, a question and answer panel about ancient traditions, a talent contest and … sheep butchering?
All are part of the annual Miss Navajo competition held in the Navajo Nation, which is located in the four corners region of the American Southwest. The event combines aspects of mainstream American beauty pageants with an emphasis on Navajo culture and language. Winners must be fluent in both English and Navajo and are seen as ambassadors for the Navajo Nation.
The film “Miss Navajo” brings attention to this largely unknown competition and aspects of the Navajo culture. It was screened at the UC Santa Cruz Women’s Center last Thursday as part of the film series “Reel Women/Real Change’.”
Roberta Valdez, the director of the UCSC Women’s Center, said that the rest of the film series will include documentaries like “Miss Navajo” that depict relatively unfamiliar aspects of women’s lives.
“This is the second quarter that I’ve done this series,” Valdez said, “and I hope to bring to light some of the movements that women have been involved in that are not necessarily well known.”
Valdez chose films that “focus on how women have changed history or changed their communities in different ways,” she said.
Samantha Folb, a fourth-year Cowell student and UCSC Women’s Center intern, said that these films “touch on all aspects of positive change, both political and social.”
Although the UCSC film screening has passed, “Miss Navajo” is available for purchase at cinemaguild.com. Valdez will be donating her copy to the McHenry Library by the end of winter quarter. A home DVD will also be available for purchase in 2009 and will include additional footage.
“Miss Navajo” director and producer Billy Luther spoke to City on a Hill Press about why he chose to make a film about the pageant. He said that “Miss Navajo” brings attention to a competition that blurs modernity with tradition and works to destabilize mainstream conceptions of beauty.
“The pageant, over fifty years ago, started just like a typical westernized pageant,” Luther said. “It wasn’t until a few years later that the Navajo people really realized that this was something that they could use more to showcase Navajo tradition and culture.”
The film follows the 2005 Miss Navajo pageant contestants, and focuses on the shy, young Navajo Nation resident Crystal Frazier. Luther also has a personal connection to the competition — his mother was crowned Miss Navajo in 1966. The film features interviews with Luther’s mother and other former winners to gauge how the competition has affected their lives.
“I knew that I had something very special here and something that was really unique,” Luther said. “I wanted to explore not just the pageant but the role of women in her culture, and I thought I could do that through the humor, through this story of Crystal, the contemporary story of a young Navajo woman, and also what this pageant has meant to these women.”
_Upcoming “Reel Women/Real Change” films include “Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed” Feb. 7, “Don’t Need You” Feb. 21, and “Sisters in Law” March 6. These films will all be shown on Thursdays, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the UCSC Women’s Center. Screenings are free for students and snacks are provided. For more information e-mail email@example.com or call (831) 459-2072._