DURANGO, Colo. – Seratha Largie, a freshman at Fort Lewis College, is settling into her role as the college’s Miss Hozhoni. Seratha, a Navajo, officially assumed the title of Miss Hozhoni in March at FLC’s Hozhoni Days Powwow.
Something like Miss America, a new Miss Hozhoni is selected every year after a week-long pageant that includes talent competitions and a question and answer session. Her role is to act as an ambassador for Fort Lewis College, the FLC Native American Center and Wanbli Ota, the student organization that organizes Hozhoni Days.
For Seratha, Miss Hozhoni is somewhat of a family tradition. One of her relatives and a sister-in-law both held the title previously. For her part, Seratha was looking for a way to find her place in school.
“I came in as a freshman and didn’t know anybody. I was trying to find a way to get involved in school, but I wasn’t sure how. I talked to a couple of people at the Native American Center and a couple of them had encouraged me to run for Miss Hozhoni, so I decided to do it, and to my surprise, I got it. It’s something I’m really proud of because I did it on my own.”
The Miss Hozhoni pageant is an annual tradition at Fort Lewis College dating back to 1966. Following introductions and the question and answer session, Seratha and the other contestant, Toni Platero, participated in several talent competitions.
First was the food competition, where Seratha made a traditional meal of blue corn mush. Next was the talent competition, broken down into a modern and traditional talent section. For the modern portion, Seratha demonstrated the calf roping skills she honed raising livestock with her family in Naschitti, N.M. She explained the history and purpose of the cradleboard for her traditional talent.
Both contestants impressed the judges, but it was Seratha that received the crown. As the runner-up, Toni will act as Miss Hozhoni’s First Attendant.
As a student, Seratha is majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology. Her goals are to attend Dartmouth College after graduating from Fort Lewis and follow her uncle into the behavioral sciences field.
“The work that he does is pretty interesting, working with high school students down to elementary students, being a role model to them and being a friend, someone for them to talk to and that’s something I want to do.”
A more specific long-term goal is to build an orphanage on the Navajo Reservation. Seratha credits her family with teaching her about her culture and traditions, and she’d like to see children without parents get that same opportunity.
Seratha knows that to attain her goals, she first has to complete her journey at FLC. College is never easy, but is often more challenging for Native Americans.
“From my perspective, our Native Americans [at FLC] – there’s a large dropout rate,” she said. “Something that I want to show them is that it’s possible to go forward and attain your post-secondary education.”
She worries that reservation schools are lacking in their preparation of students for higher education.
“From my perspective, on the reservation, we don’t have that many opportunities and coming from really remote areas, it’s kind of hard for us to all of a sudden be thrown into college. There are so many different opportunities and we kind of get overwhelmed.”
After receiving an education on the reservation, Seratha took advantage of one opportunity to travel to New York to attend a college prep school. She was inspired by the principal’s determination.
“The thing that he told [the students] is that ‘without struggle, there is no progress’ and that’s something I live by now.”
While most students are done for the summer, Seratha has a busy and ambitious schedule lined up for the coming months. Among the tasks she set for herself are trips to area schools as Miss Hozhoni, speaking to students about pursuing higher education. On campus, she’ll work with the many student organizations to build cooperation and student involvement, thereby hopefully encouraging students to complete their education.
The title of Miss Hozhoni carries a great deal of responsibility, even pressure, but Seratha wouldn’t trade it.
“[The Miss Hozhoni pageant] was a very fun experience and something I will cherish and remember for many years to come.”