Miss Teen Navajo wows crowd by speaking Navajo

By Arlyssa Becenti
Gallup, New Mexico (AP) April 2012

Window Rock High School sophomore Gypsy Shannon Pete was left speechless when she heard her name being announced as the new Miss Teen Navajo last weekend at the Navajo Nation Museum. “I’m speechless,” Pete said. “I feel accomplished and very proud of myself. This pageant is about helping the youth and that’s what I want to contribute to.”

Pete wowed the crowd with her fluent Navajo speaking, which is seen as a talent. Young Navajo speakers are a rarity. Trying to revitalize the Navajo language is one of the reasons why Miss Teen Navajo coordinator Mel Hoskie started the pageant three years ago.

“Anywhere you go – movies, restaurants – you never hear teenagers speaking together in conversation Navajo,” Hoskie said. “We need to have our language spoken.” Hoskie said in order to make his vision of the Miss Teen Navajo a reality it took him two years of research and preparation. Participating as a judge in the Miss Eastern Navajo, Miss Navajo Nation, Miss Northern Navajo and Miss Central Navajo pageants gave Hoskie the knowledge of traditional pageants. But it was the assistance of his friends, Hoskie said, that gave him the extra help needed to start his own pageant.

“I hope it grows,” Hoskie said. “Last year we had three contestants; this year we have six. It’s growing.”

Each contestant had to compete in both traditional and contemporary events. As the day of competition moved on it was time for the 2011-2012 Miss Teen Navajo Jerae Curtis to give her final farewell speech. Curtis explained in her speech how hard it was at times when people criticized the fact that she wasn’t a fluent speaker or other small discrepancies that they saw with her, but she never let those bad times ruin her overall reign that she enjoyed.

“At times I did discourage because people would say, `You’re not speaking enough Navajo,”’ Curtis said. “They didn’t understand that I was still learning.”

During the pageant Curtis got up on stage and attempted to speak in Navajo without reading from a sheet of paper and she vowed to the crowd that she will one day be able to hold a conversation in Navajo.

“My heart pounds every time I hear you (contestants) speak Navajo,” Curtis said. “I promise you next time you see me I will be able to have a conversation with you in Navajo.”

After gaining the crown as the new Miss Teen Navajo, Pete already set as her future goal to earn the title of Miss Navajo Nation, for which contestants are expected to speak and understand fluent Navajo.

“I plan to run for Miss Navajo,” Pete said. “And to all the young women I want to say be proud of who you are. Beauty is not in makeup or anything like that. It’s natural beauty. Be proud to be a DinÈ woman.”