March 24, 2010

Miss Navajo tackles taboos

Saving the young people

Miss Navajo Nation tackles taboo topics of depression, suicide

By Erny Zah
Recently Nelson sat at her desk in her dimly lit office in the Navajo Nation Museum. She wore a full set of turquoise jewelry complete with a cluster-style concho belt, bracelets and even collar pins. All of which matched her silver and turquoise crown.

Though she might look like the stereotype of Miss Navajo as a vintage Navajo woman transported into modern surroundings, when it comes to Nelson's platform, she's challenging some ancient Navajo taboos.

She understands the people's reluctance to engage in discussions about death or mental illness.

"The reason you're not supposed to talk about death is because you're asking for those things to come to you" in traditional Navajo thinking, she said.

As the traditional people see it, by talking about it "you're allowing it to happen."

Despite her knowledge and respect of some longstanding aspects of Diné philosophy, she openly advocates talking about depression and suicide saying that it's the only way to reach people who may be in danger of slipping away from their family and their people.

Dinah Dahozy Wauneka, supervisor of the Office of Miss Navajo, said it's the first time in her experience that a Miss Navajo has tackled a subject regarded as taboo. Nevertheless, she added, "With each generation, things change. At this day and age we have a different set of problems than we did 20 years ago."
Comment:  Good that Nelson is using her position to do useful things. But I'm still not crazy about the idea of beauty pageants. She could perform the same duties in another position--for instance, goodwill ambassador.

Then there's this:For Nelson, the crown is also an opportunity to learn about being Navajo and to meet people, including young people.

She said in some classrooms the children are "awestruck" by her presence and one student asked if she knew Jasmine, a character from Disney's movie "Aladdin."

"They think I'm a Disney princess," she said.
Once again we see the awesome power of mass media. A young woman enters a classroom in a traditional Navajo dress and the Navajo children think she's a cartoon character. They can't distinguish between the fictional Pocahontas and a real Indian woman.

And yet people have the nerve to say a movie like Twilight is just a movie? How many girls have new hopes and dreams because of a Disney or Twilight film...millions? How many could name a politician or scientist and how many can name the Twilight stars?

For more on beauty pageants, see Filipina Girl Is Navajo Princess and Hoopa Named Miss Indian World.

Below:  "Miss Navajo Nation Tashina Nelson, left, speaks to Seba Dalkai Boarding School students about positive thinking Feb. 4 during a weeklong suicide prevention and awareness training called Native H.O.P.E. (Helping Our People Endure) in Seba Dalkai, Ariz." (Special to the Times--Donovan Quintero)

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