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Nevada’s Centennial Indian Princess Returns 50 Years Later, Celebrates State’s Indigenous Presence

CARSON CITY, Nev. -- It was 1964, and 16-year-old Aloha Calac didn’t want to enter the Centennial Indian Princess Pageant, part of the State of Nevada’s centennial celebration.

“My mom put me in it. I said, ‘It’s not me,’” she recalled. “I had to write a speech. I wasn’t very talkative or outgoing. I was shy.”

She won the title, contributing an Indigenous presence to the state’s 100th birthday – some 86 years after the U.S. government temporarily exiled her people to the Yakama Reservation in what is now Washington state.

Fifty years after she was named Centennial Indian Princess, the now Aloha Calac-Jones, a retired educator and corrections officer, returned to Carson City for the state’s 150th birthday celebration and a reunion with other contestants from the 1964 pageant.

The reunion, on Oct. 30, was one of several events that celebrated Nevada’s First Peoples during the 15-month observance, from September 2013 to December 2014.

The state’s 150th birthday celebration included pow wows, Native American Day observance, a Native American market, visiting artists series, cultural presentations, stick game tournament, and the American Indian Achievement Awards Banquet.

The 1964 contestants were honored at a reception hosted by the Nevada Indian Commission at the Gold Dust West Hotel Casino. “Going back, that was great,” said Calac-Jones, who divides her time between her home in Florida and a family home in Susanville, California, which is historically Paiute territory.

Courtesy Valarie Calac

Aloha Calac-Jones returned to Carson City, Nevada in October for a reunion of 1964 Centennial Indian Princess contestants.

“I wanted to go back and be with the girls. It was a joy seeing everybody. One lives in New York, one in Alaska. I even met one girl I hadn’t seen since Alcatraz.”

After the 1964 pageant, Calac-Jones was not the shy young woman she was before the pageant. She participated in the occupation of Alcatraz; tutored Native children and adults and urban Indians; and taught Native culture in schools and at University of Nevada at Las Vegas. She and her family were involved in learning and teaching the culture, and her son, Walter Quenelle, was a member of Dennis Alley’s Wisdom Indian Dancers, which toured with Willie Nelson.

After she and her husband moved to Florida, she attended corrections training at Quantico and became a corrections officer. She retired as an administrative lieutenant.

In a letter to the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California’s newsletter, the chairpersons of the honoring committee thanked the Nevada Indian Commission, Paiute and Paiute-Shoshone officials, Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and donors for making the gathering possible. They noted that some 1964 contestants had walked on and were represented at the gathering by family members. They called the gathering “historic.”

“It meant so much to all of us to have this final opportunity in some cases to see one another,” Meg McDonald and Joann Nevers wrote.