Projects / Royals

Aysha Catron-Tsosie, 16, holds the title of Miss Teen Navajo Nation. “Holding this title makes me dream for something more,” Aysha said.

On the Navajo Nation, there is a group coined “royalty” by their families and their communities. These young women dedicate themselves to the knowledge and preservation of their cultural identity through participation in beauty pageants.

These pageants require demonstration of traditional dress, language, and skills.

During pageant season—in school gymnasiums, in fairground tents, in old movie theaters—the Diné language flows like honey from the tongues of royals as their families watch with pride. Year-round, there are hours spent reciting syllables with mentors or grandmothers in community centers and living room floors. There are elective language courses and countless pans of burned fry bread, all in preparation for this—for fluent introductions, melodic cradle songs, and delicious fry bread, all received in celebration by their communities.

“I wasn’t traditional when I was small, but I learned about my culture and how to respect it,” said Taya Tom, the thirteen-year-old princess of the Black Creek Gourd Society

Royalty gather for a parade in Gallup, New Mexico.

Taya’s mother Leticia Tom fixes her hair. Taya often wakes up at 5 a.m. to get ready before events. With the help of her parents, she fixes her hair and dresses according to Navajo tradition.

Zunneh-bah Martin is crowned Miss Intertribal Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico.

Taylor Tailbi Denzhoone waits to go on stage at the Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial.

Taya performs at the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home in Gallup, New Mexico.

Kelana Charley is wrapped in a blanket by her mother after winning a baby contest at the fairgrounds in Crownpoint, New Mexico.

Ashley Nilianh Susan, Miss Native American USA, brushes her sister Taylor Tailbi Denzhoone Susan's hair in Gallup, New Mexico.

A scene near Taya's home in Nakaibito, New Mexico.

Taya Tom in her backyard in Nakaibito, New Mexico.

Lanirae Padilla makes a craddleboard while singing a Navajo powwow song at the Eastern Diné bi Pageant in Crownpoint, New Mexico.

Aysha Catron-Tsosie greets Kamara Castillo, a contestant in a baby contest in Crownpoint, New Mexico.

Taya practices the guitar.

Autumn Judith Montoya receives a hug from a child as contestants from the Intertribal Ceremonial pageant march in the parade in Gallup on Thursday.

Ashley Nilianh Susan, Miss Native American USA. She studies psychology and engineering and wants to work with solar energy.

Chenoa Stevens is crowned Miss Diné bi Eastern Pageant in Crownpoint, New Mexico.

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