Native pageant gives contestants opportunity for leadership

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Amber Ebarb wasn't sure she wanted to apply for the Miss Tlingit Haida Youth Leadership Pageant because the word pageant conjures up images of swimsuits.

But she realized, looking at a list of the questions the contestants must answer about what issues mattered most to them and the Native community, that the Tlingit Haida pageant was about leadership, not physical beauty.

Ebarb placed first in the pageant, held April 19 in Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall at a banquet for the General Assembly of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Ebarb, who entered the hall dancing traditionally with members of her family and who also played a Western piece of music on the clarinet, won a $2,000 scholarship from the central council.

The pageant was an opportunity ''for me to have a stand on issues I care about,'' said Ebarb, 21, a Tlingit who grew up in Anchorage and now attends Whitman College in Washington state. ''I thought, 'Wow, this would be a place to say all those things I think about at school.'''

It's the first year for the pageant. The three contestants submitted an essay on a social issue, were interviewed by three judges and made presentations during the banquet. Ebarb will represent the Tlingit and Haida people in the Miss National Congress of American Indian pageant in November.

Organizer Jackie Tagaban of the central council said she felt strongly there should be an opportunity for young Native women to see themselves as leaders and to feel self-confident.

''This isn't going to be a pageant where they're in swimsuits,'' Tagaban said. ''This isn't an opportunity to look good, but take a leadership role.''

Contestant Levada Johnson, a 23-year-old Tlingit who is a pharmacy technician in Juneau, said she wants to study for a pharmacy degree. She spoke about subsistence in her presentation and placed third, winning a $1,000 scholarship. Johnson said she's won several other Native pageants in the past few years.

''It's just nice, because I like showing the Native girls and women that you can be something.''

Second-place winner Jamilah Pitchford, 18, a Ketchikan High School senior who lives in Saxman, is Tlingit and Haida. She was awarded a $1,500 scholarship. She joined the pageant to be a voice for Saxman and give her opinion on Native concerns, Pitchford said.

During her presentation Friday, she sang ''Amazing Grace'' in English and Tlingit. Pitchford said she is concerned about the lack of religious faith, the lack of awareness of Native culture, and substance abuse. She plans to study religion in college and train for the Salvation Army.

''In my essay I talked about hate crimes and how Natives are targeted a lot, not only in Alaska but around the United States,'' Pitchford said. ''And that the status quo is not adequate to solve hate crimes in the United States.''

In interviews, Johnson and Ebarb spoke of subordinating their sense of being Native while they were in high school, so that others wouldn't look down on them or see them in stereotypical ways.

''For a while, I hated being Alaska Native, just because of all the negatives you hear at school,'' said Johnson, who said teachers told her she'd be nothing but a drunk downtown.

''I tried to hide for a while,'' Ebarb said. ''I felt if I did identify strongly as Alaska Native or Tlingit, teachers would see that and think I wasn't competent'' and place her in less demanding classes.

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