By Sofia Stuart-Rasi/KSJD

Published September 15, 2021 at 3:16 PM MDT

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Niagara Rockbridge is crowned at the Miss Navajo Nation event, in a screenshot taken from the event’s video stream.

The 69th Miss Navajo Nation Pageant concluded on Saturday.

Large in-person gatherings in the Navajo Nation are currently prohibited due to the ongoing pandemic, so the event was streamed live online. Hundreds of people around the world tuned in to find out who will be crowned.

According to the Miss Navajo Nation Office, the role of the pageant is to exemplify the essence and characters of First Woman, White Shell Woman, and Changing Woman and to display leadership as the Goodwill Ambassador.

Miss Navajo represents womanhood and fulfills the role of “grandmother, mother, aunt, and sister to the Navajo people and therefore she can speak as a leader, teacher, counselor, advisor and friend.”

Three Diné women competed for the title this year: Shandinn Yazzie, Niagara Rockbridge and Oshkailia Ironshell

The first day of the pageant started with sheep butchering and traditions; cooking, followed by a day full of interviews. The contestants faced a range of questions from one of the Master’s of Ceremony, Zane James. He spoke in Navajo and English.

“For these young ladies, embarking on the journey, it’s not an easy task, ladies and gentlemen,” said James. “It’s a very difficult task.”

The interviews were at the Navajo Nation Museum and started with a series of questions about business leadership and contemporary skills in English. When asked about the impacts of domestic abuse, the first contestant, Shandinn Yazzie mentioned the lack of resources for abused women in the Navajo nation. And referred to lingering trauma.

Yazzie says in order to heal, the trauma needs to be addressed.

“I want a lot of folks to know that it’s going to be okay,” she said. “You’re going to be okay. And I am here with you.”

Another series of questions were asked in Navajo regarding traditional knowledge. Traditional knowledge refers to wisdom, innovations and practices passed down from generation to generation. Contestant Niagara Rockbridge blew viewers away with her Navajo speaking skills.

But Contestant Oshkailiah Ironshell backed out of the round of questions, citing severe anxiety.

Dottie Lizer, the Second Lady of the Navajo Nation, shared her own language background in response to Ironshells difficult decision. Like Ironshell and many other Navajo young people, Lizer didn’t grow up speaking Navajo.

“You know, I was raised in a Christain home,” she said. “And that doesn’t mean I don’t love my culture or my language. So have some compassion for her.”

Throughout the pageant, Ironshell struggled speaking fluently in Navajo. But she also shared her desire to keep learning her language to one day be fluent. Friday was the last day of competitions with all three Diné women competing in a contemporary and traditional talent and skills show.

Contestant Niagara Rockbridge’s contemporary skill was installing electrical components. Rockbridge grew up in a house full of brothers and is the only girl in the family.

“It’s very essential that I know how to do things such as wire an outlet and all of these things,” she said. “That is why I don’t have to depend on anybody or my brothers to do it.”

The last Miss Navajo Nation, Shaadin Parrish, won the title in 2019, and because last year’s pageant was cancelled, she held the position an extra year. In 1999, the Branch Chiefs of the Navajo Government agreed that one of their fundamental principles would be the preservation of Navajo culture. And Miss Navajo Nation represents the importance of Navajo Women with respect and honor.

On Saturday morning, Miss Niagara Rockbridge was crowned as the 69th Miss Navajo Nation.

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This report was produced for the Rocky Mountain Community Radio Coalition, of which KSUT is a member. RMCR includes more than 15 member stations across Colorado and parts of Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Kansas.

Mark Duggan provided online production of this story for KSUT.