Contestants Impress Judges, Onlookers
September 05, 2013
WINDOW ROCK, AZ
When Miss Navajo Nation hopeful Natasha Hardy used her knuckles
and strength to detach the skin in a "fisting maneuver" from the
sheep's carcass, the hundreds of Navajo people in attendance during
the 61st Miss Navajo Nation Butchering and Traditional Bread-making
Competition affirmed her technique with cheers.
Hardy, who ran for Miss Navajo two years ago, was partnered
with Brittany Hunt, of Shonto, Ariz, during the first day of the
2013-2014 Miss Navajo Nation Pageant, held at the Hazel Yazza Pavilion
on the tribal fairgrounds. Hunt got an honorable mention in last
year's competition against reigning Miss Navajo Leandra Thomas.
The pair of sheep-butchering veterans, easily won the one-hour-timed
butchering contest. They finished about 15 minutes before the team
of Wallita Begay and Darian Isaac finished second, and waited another
10 minutes before the the team of Joni Pino and Cherish Tso completed
their butchering task just 10 minutes shy of the one-hour time limit.
Pageant-goer Minnie Davis, of Kit'siili, Ariz., was impressed
with the butchering team of Hardy and Hunt. Hunt was able to redeem
herself after fainting and being hauled away in an ambulance during
last year's competition.
"They were quicker at taking the sheep apart except for the
last part," observed Davis.
The last part Davis referred to is the struggle Hardy and Hunt
had with cutting the backbone away from the sheep's carcass. Hardy
had to used a hatchet to successfully detach it.
For the most part, the elderly woman said the women followed
the proper steps in harvesting a sheep.
"They pretty much know how to butcher," she said.
The other team of Miss Navajo hopefuls consisted of Versheena
Dempsey and Lailauni Moore, who finished third in the timed event.
Mistress of Ceremonies Jannalee Atcitty, Miss Navajo 2004-2005,
applauded the hopefuls for butchering their sheep within the time
allocated to them. It was the first time all contestants completed
the sheep butchering during the one-hour time frame.
"Yeego, clap for them," she told the crowd, who responded with
The four sheep were donated by the Begody and Thomas families,
Jay Begay, owner of a Navajo churro sheep farm in Rocky Ridge, Ariz.,
and Oops-A-Daisy Flowers in Window Rock.
Before the butchering contest occurs, a crucial part of the
entire process is to build a fire for the bread.
While Hardy and Hunt rested and waited for the bread-making
competition to begin, the crowd became involved by encouraging Pino
and Tso to take their turn at detaching the backbone of their sheep
"Come on, Joni!" shouted a family member of Pino's.
"You can do it!" said another.
During the bread-making competition, all eight women sat on
their knees attending to the fire they built while kneading the
dough needed to make fry bread and tortillas.
They were in plain view of pageant-goer Sue Bizade of Black
Mesa, Ariz., who was taking photos of the contest. She noticed Moore's
technique of making bread.
"She makes good tortillas," Bizade observed, as Moore flipped
and thinned out the dough with her hands.
Hunt was well organized when making her bread, as she was the
first one to take a seat while the rest of her counterparts continued
making theirs. Tso was the last contestant to be judged of her bread-making
Following the bread-making competition, the contestants turned
their focus to the impromptu questions, which basically tested their
knowledge about butchering and bread-making.
The impromptu questions were asked in Navajo, with the expectation
of these eight Navajo women to answer each question in Navajo.
Thomas, who won the Best Butcher Award last year en route to
becoming Miss Navajo, made it clear to the contestants, while speaking
in the Navajo language about the instructions of this competition,
to "speak in Navajo."
Some of the questions asked of the contestants were, "Wool is
used to make rugs, what are some of the names of tools that are
used for weaving?" "After the head is detached, what's the last
thing you do before hanging up the sheep?" "How is the backbone
taken apart?" "Name the different kinds of bread, and which is the
healthiest?" "About what age should a person start learning to make
In an interview following the contest, Thomas told the Navajo
Times the questions in the impromptu category of the competition
were crafted to "another level" about history, instead of the typical
yes-or-no questions or asking a contestant to explain the process
of a particular subject.
"It was based on what they know," she said. "There was no right
or wrong answer."
The way the questions were asked by the five judges not only
confused the eight contestants but a few even confused the crowd,
and they weren't shy about expressing their confusion.
"The question is not clear."
"She confused her," were some of the statements coming from
the pavilion stands.
One of those confused bystanders was Lene Harvey of Chinle.
"I think the judges need to ask the questions correctly," she
said, adding that only one judge should ask questions. "I think
that's where the mistake is."
Hunt was probably the only contestant to answer her questions
- all in Navajo - with very little problem.
She drew the questions, "About what age should a person start
learning to make bread?" and "How do you use sheep fat in a ceremonial
Through the interpretation of Bizade, who was sitting by this
reporter, Hunt successfully answered both questions in Navajo with
these answers, "As a young lady, I was taught at an early age to
cook for my family, my brothers and sisters. So, the proper age
of being able to cook for one's family begins when taught at an
early age," and "In the Enemy Way Ceremony, sheep fat is mixed with
ash for the blackening of the patient."
Miss Indian World Kansas Begay, who was among a slew of royalty
at the contest, applauded the contestants for their hard work and
"They were all really good," she said. "It takes a lot of strength
to do it and that comes from their family."
Day Two of the 61st Miss Navajo Nation Pageant will continue
today (Thursday) with a Navajo Interview Panel at 9 a.m., followed
by the traditional talent and skill competition later in the day
at 1:30 p.m.
Friday morning at 9 p.m. will be the contemporary talent and
skills competition, followed by the evening gown competition at
All the remaining Miss Navajo events will occur at the white
tent at Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise in Window Rock.
The coronation of the 61st Miss Navajo took place on Saturday,
September 7th at 6 p.m.