It’s Not a Beauty Pageant! An Examination of Leadership Development through Alaska Native Pageants

This dissertation explores the adaptation of traditionally objectified women's spaces, into an arena for leadership development, research which incorporates the development of culturally relevant mechanisms of leadership training within Indigenous societies.  Cultural pageants offer a place for young women to become spokespersons on social justice issues, without the sexual objectification of entering beauty pageants.  Such pageants also provide a glimpse of how cultural groups wish their national identity to be portrayed to the general public.  Fifty years in the making, today's Native Nations cultural pageants have been decolonized to present images of young leaders, confident in their heritage, introducing themselves in their Native language, and committed to cultural continuity and sustainable Nations.  This research examines a state-wide Alaska Native pageant, Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics, from three perspectives: 1) the young women who develop culturally based leadership skills; 2) the community, who gains language and cultural, revitalization and maintenance role models; 3) and the general public, who gains a much needed positive representation of a contemporary Indigenous woman.  This study draws from interdisciplinary theories and research methodologies (including observation, in-depth interviews, questionnaires, surveys, and archival research) and follows the young women through to the contest at the national level, Miss Indian World, run annually in Albuquerque, through Gathering of Nations.  The underlying hypothesis is that women use cultural pageants as a stepping stone to advance their cultural leadership.  In doing so, they promote factors of community well-being affecting Indigenous communities, such as suicide prevention, substance abuse, and language and cultural revitalization.

Author: 

Caroline "Charlie" Williams

Chair: 

Mary Jo Tippeconnic Fox

Publication: 

dissertation

Year: 

2013
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences