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Indian Beauty Pageant

Contests showcase traditional regalia
Jade McDowell

East Oregonian

Published on September 8, 2017 4:22PM

Staff photo by Kathy Aney
Junior American Indian Beauty Pageant runner-up Grace Sobatta, 12, of Lapwai, Idaho, competes Thursday morning at Roy Raley Park.

Staff photo by Kathy Aney Junior American Indian Beauty Pageant runner-up Grace Sobatta, 12, of Lapwai, Idaho, competes Thursday morning at Roy Raley Park.

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Visitors to the Round-Up have the rare treat to visit the Indian Beauty Contest and its junior counterpart to see young girls and women decked out in traditional regalia.

“It’s an opportunity for people to take pictures and see the beautiful outfits that don’t come out that much anymore,” said Mac Levy, director of the junior pageant.

Some of the dresses worn each year are now more than 100 years old — worn by generations of mothers and daughters, cousins and aunts — until they are only displayed in public only once or twice a year.

The Junior Indian Beauty Contest for girls ages 4-13 is Thursday at 10 a.m. at Roy Raley Park, while the pageant for women 14 and older is 9 a.m. Friday on Pendleton’s Main Street.

Tribes from around the Northwest have been an important part of the Round-Up since its inception. And as part of that partnership, the Indian Beauty Contest has been running since the first Round-Up in 1910. The junior pageant has been around since 1961, when Levy’s father Lou Levy decided it would be fun to give the younger girls a chance to compete as well.

Neither pageant has changed much in the years since, sticking to the simple, traditional format that puts the focus on the contestants and their heritage. During the junior pageant, which drew 76 competitors in 2016, contestants wave to the audience while the announcer reads information about their regalia, family and tribal heritage. They are given a score based half on their regalia and half on their poise.

“It’s changed very, very little in almost 60 years,” Levy said. “I don’t think there are many pageants like that anymore.”

During the senior pageant, about 20 young women ride in on horseback and answer questions about their regalia, ancestry and interests. They are evaluated by a panel of Pendleton Woolen Mills representatives from around the country who base their scores 50 percent on the regalia, 25 percent on natural beauty and 25 percent on poise. Pendleton Woolen Mills blankets are given to the top four contestants.

Toni Minthorn serves as an outrider for the pageant, helping keep the young women safe while on horseback and teaching those who want to participate but don’t know how to ride a horse. Minthorn said the pageant offers those who take part a valuable experience of answering on-the-spot questions in front of an audience. It also helps them connect with their heritage.

“A lot of times some of the ladies aren’t super familiar with their own family history, and they have to research that,” she said.

Minthorn said the regalia featured is the “best of the best” and is often very specific to area tribes.

“People can expect to see some of the most unique, traditional women’s regalia in the Northwest, if not the nation,” she said.



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