2011 Princess Makayla McKay

<p>2011 Princess Makayla McKay </p>

The evening of the Happy Canyon Princess Appreciation Banquet, the diminutive princesses themselves were hard to be seen among a sea of cowboy hats, Pendleton wool and glinting silver and turquoise jewelry. With Round-Up looming 40 days away, Happy Canyon court representatives and Round-Up directors gather to wish the princesses well.

Standing in full regalia, Makayla McKay flapped her arms to circulate air through her layers. She and Chelsey Minthorn were both swathed in silk wing dresses, traditional beaver hair wraps and beaded headbands. The silk wing dresses aren’t traditional, but they are more comfortable in hot weather.

While McKay and Minthorn mingle, up front people browsed around the tables set out with poster boards of their lives as bubbly teens, photos of prom and goofy faces with friends, which hung above the intricate beaded shawls and buckskin dresses laid out on the table. McKay’s great-great-grandmother Alice Barnhart sewed the heavy buckskin dress and stitched on decorative shells for her great-grandmother, Eva Watchman. The dress is about 75 years old, but instead of being in a museum, it still gets plenty of wear today.

Since that dress was sewn, princesses have changed a bit, said McKay. Her grandmother wouldn’t have spent an hour on makeup and hair, for instance. She’s getting faster at it, since she’s had months of practice.

Becoming a Happy Canyon princess is no simple thing: McKay and Minthorn made it through a written application and two interviews before being selected, and demonstrated dedication to the confederated tribes and long-term goals. McKay remembers standing nervously before five people to give a speech as part of the final interview. But standing before more than a hundred people to give an after-dinner speech at the banquet, she and Minthorn both graciously thanked everyone, told a few funny stories and handed out gifts to the people involved with putting on the show with aplomb.

McKay comes from Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla and Nez Perce bloodlines, and her heritage will doubtless guide her life choices. The Nixyaawii graduate will head to Blue Mountain Community College this fall, but she’s got her sights on other places, as well. She’d like to spend some time outside of Oregon, maybe go to school in Arizona, but she hopes to someday come back to the tribe and practice medicine. Diabetes is a prevalent problem on many reservations, and she’d like to bring expertise to the tribes.

McKay and Minthorn spent all evening working the crowd as princesses, and the next day were up and at ’em for an afternoon event. Their chaperone, Kristan Garton, often puts in 20 hours a week volunteering for them: It gets a little exhausting at times, she admits, but it’s worth it. In the last few months, the three have gotten to know each other pretty well. Garton attends McKay and Minthorn’s sports games, and the girls tell stories about laughing when Garton, a married mother, gets hit on by strangers. Garton’s amazed at how cheerful and hardworking they are. “They’re such gorgeous, smart girls,” she said, “I’m not sure when I was 18 I could have put on a banquet like that.” 

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