News

Native American Miss South Dakota Targets Stereotypes - 2002-09-18

When 51 young women from across the U.S. take the stage for the Miss America Pageant Saturday, September 21, one will be breaking a barrier. It's not because Vanessa Short Bull is Native American. There have been other American Indian women who've competed in the pageant and one, Norma Smallwood, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, became Miss America in 1926. What makes Miss Short Bull's presence on that stage significant is that she's the first Native American to hold the title of Miss South Dakota, a western state with a reputation particularly among Native people for being discriminatory toward Indians.

Vanessa Short Bull began her road to the Miss America Pageant as a senior in high school. She says her government studies teacher suggested that she try out for the Junior Miss South Dakota pageant because of her beauty, her poise, her sense of humor and her talent.

Ten years of ballet classes and a stint at New York City's Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre paid off for Miss Short Bull, she won the talent category for Junior Miss South Dakota. But it took several tries before she became Miss South Dakota. She attributes her determination to win as well as her political outspokenness to her grandmothers.

"I look at my grandmothers and just the way they led their lives. My grandmother Zona was actually the first person on the reservation to have a car...and that's amazing," she explain. " Because most people would assume that, hey, why in, what was that 1920 something - that, I mean, she had a job, she was supporting her family and she had a car, and most people wouldn't assume that a woman would do that. So I look to them, and being outspoken and speaking for your people, I think they're the true feminists."

Vanessa Short Bull also comes from a line of strong men, counting the legendary Lakota leaders Red Cloud and Short Bull among her ancestors. Her father, Tom Shortbull, is a former state senator and current president of Oglala Lakota College. Although Miss Short Bull hasn't lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation since she was six, this down-to-earth beauty queen says she's well aware of the problems faced by her people especially Lakota Sioux women.

"I go around the reservation seeing these most beautiful Indian girls, and they're not confident. When I see this it just breaks my heart because these are natural beauties and they should be proud of what they look like," she admits. "And I think that's because when they look in the magazines on newsstands, they aren't the blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauties. I just want to show them that, hey, if I can do it you more than certainly can do it. I really do think that Indian women are the most unique looking people, their facial features. And it's just sad not to see them not being confident in that. And hopefully, being in Miss America and showing them that you can be confident in your own skin, that's something I can give to them and hopefully I can see more Indian women pursuing being Miss South Dakota or going into the Miss USA system, just to be out there."

For Lakota Sioux on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Vanessa Short Bull's reign as Miss South Dakota will provide an opportunity for the world to see a beautiful Native woman and to learn that American Indians share many of the same values as other Americans.

"It's giving her a chance to not only represent the women of South Dakota, but also the Native women of South Dakota. We may not be rich, money-wise, but we have a lot of rich talents, rich culture and that, you know, we're genuine people," said one woman.

"You know, she's probably one of the most successful girls on the reservation, to actually be in that position," said another. " Like, she's not scared to do what she looks forward to doing, and like nothing else gets at her and she's just going out there and doing what she wants to do. I like that about her."

In spite of these accolades, Vanessa Short Bull remains humble. She says that winning beauty pageants has merely changed her from an "ugly duckling" into a more confident duck. And she adds that the last thing she wants to be seen as is an "American Indian" beauty queen.

"I don't want to sell people on the fact that I'm Indian. That's something that's just part of me. I don't have to go out and force-feed people, you know, be aware I'm Indian," she says. " I think people, when they see me, are going to say, 'Well, of course she's Indian. Her last name's Short Bull, she's got features...' and I want people to see me for who I am and not for the fact that I'm the first Native American Miss South Dakota."

That seems to be happening. In a state whose residents are frequently viewed as discriminatory by tribal members, the first Native American Miss South Dakota is not drawing controversy.

"I don't think it's a big deal. I don't think it's any different than having someone who's German, Italian, whatever nationality they are. We don't think it's that rare," said one local.

However, the fact that it's taken so long for an Indian to win the state title is not lost on other South Dakotans.

"I've never thought of a person of a different race winning the Miss South Dakota title," said one woman. "I'm happy that a Native American is representing us."

Comments like that don't surprise Tom and Darlene Shortbull, who say they look forward to their daughter's contributions to improved race relations in the state.

"The whole issue of improved race relations has to be enhanced when we as Indian people go out there and accomplish things," Mr. Short Bull says. "As Vanessa said, there's been a stereotype in South Dakota that we're lazy Indians, we don't accomplish much. I think she's a positive role model as other people are in this state, who go on to be doctors and lawyers and things like that. And so when I think the non-Indian population sees us in a more positive light, that's got to have a positive impact. "

"It's America. I mean, this is the American dream for Vanessa and for us," adds Mr. Short Bull. "I think it's a positive image that everybody really, really needs to see, as far as Indian Country. Because I think we are so caught up in our problems, right on the reservation, that we never see further, you know, what can happen outside of the reservation. And certainly Vanessa's doing it. She's out there showing people, here we are we're Indians."

Just as her grandmother was the first person on Pine Ridge to own a car Vanessa Short Bull would also like to be a 'first' - the first Indian woman from her state to become Miss America. Her platform calls for political awareness and participation. And while she stresses that it's imperative for American Indians to get out and vote, she says she'd like to see everyone in the country take part in the political process.

"It's just important that people get out and vote. It's so important," she stresses. "People around here don't remember our grandparents who fought in World War II, who fought for the freedoms that we enjoy but, yet, we're not partaking in it. And one of the greatest freedoms that we have is the right to vote. I want to show people that yes, I am Indian, but I still have the same ideals and values as everyone else. It's Miss America, we are trying to find things that unite us all and that we all are the same."

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs