Northeastern State University senior Ja-Li-Si Pittman, 21, is the new Miss Cherokee. She was crowned Saturday, August 29, during a leadership competition at Cornerstone Fellowship Church in Tahlequah.
Pittman receives a $3,000 scholarship and for the next year will represent the Cherokee Nation as a goodwill ambassador to promote the government, history, language and culture of the Cherokee people.
“Serving as Miss Cherokee is a life-changing experience. It’s an opportunity to travel across Oklahoma and the United States representing the tribe, and visit with Cherokees of all ages and all walks of life,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a press release. “Miss Cherokee is truly an asset to the Cherokee Nation and an extremely important role model who exemplifies the best qualities of Cherokee youth.”
Pittman is the daughter of Pete and Ginny Pittman. She competed against three other young women for the crown. The Miss Cherokee Leadership Competition judged contestants on their use of the Cherokee language, cultural and platform presentations, and impromptu interviews.
“Being Miss Cherokee is nothing to take lightly. It’s such a high honor and means I need to continue to be a good role model and do the best I can to represent the tribe,” Pittman said. “I didn’t expect it and hated to cry, because when Chief Baker hugged me I soaked his shirt a little.”
Pittman, of Tahlequah, is studying psychology with a minor in chemistry. She wants to pursue a career as a psychiatrist. She is currently the vice president of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council and former secretary of Native American Students Association. She also volunteers on mission trips each summer with her church and was an intern with Baptist Collegiate Ministry at NSU.
For her cultural presentation, Pittman composed a piano piece and sang Orphan Child in Cherokee. Her mother is bilingual and grew up in Nicut with Cherokee as her first language. Pittman’s platform tackled youth needing strong mentors in school.
“I’d like to use my platform to speak to students in rural schools about overcoming some of the issues they face, and I can’t think of a better way to serve my tribe,” she said.
Pittman’s first public event as Miss Cherokee will be Saturday’s State of the Nation Address at the 63rd Cherokee National Holiday in Tahlequah.
Miss Cherokee first runner-up was Jackie Eagle, of Gore, who earned a $2,000 scholarship. Second runner-up was Brooke Bailey, of Hulbert, who earned a $1,000 scholarship.
Judges for the Miss Cherokee Leadership Competition were Brenda Krouse Fitzgerald, Dana Hummingbird Noel, Rebecca Carey-Drywater and Cherokee artist Demos Glass, who designed this year’s crown.
Past Miss Cherokees have met with President Barack Obama, attended a White House Generation Indigenous Initiative for Native Youth, spoke at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and attended many events hosted by the tribe.
One week prior, the Junior Miss Cherokee crown was passed to Madison Whitekiller, Verdigris High School junior of Claremore, Oklahoma.
Courtesy Cherokee Nation
Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Junior Miss Cherokee Madison Whitekiller and First Lady Sherry Baker.
Whitekiller was bestowed the honor at the 24th Annual Junior Miss Cherokee Competition, held Saturday, August 22.
For the next year, Whitekiller will act as a goodwill ambassador for the tribe, promoting the government, language, history and traditions of the Cherokee people, states a Cherokee Nation press release.
Five teens competed to serve as the 2015-16 Junior Miss Cherokee at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center in three categories: cultural presentation, impromptu question and a speech on their platform.
Whitekiller, 16, earned her sash and crown after she presented the history of the Cherokee syllabary, answered what one thing she would do for the Cherokee people and gave a speech on the importance of reading.
“Being crowned Junior Miss Cherokee means so much to me, because I worked so hard months ahead of time to get where I am now,” Whitekiller said. “I’m just ready to get out in the communities and meet all the great Cherokee people, and be able to educate those who aren’t Cherokee about our culture and history.”
During her reign as Junior Miss Cherokee, Whitekiller hopes to visit schools throughout the tribe’s jurisdiction to promote the importance of reading. In addition to the crown, Whitekiller also received the cultural presentation, traditional dress and Miss Congeniality awards. Whitekiller is the daughter of Suzy Whitekiller.
Elizabeth Hummingbird, 17, of Stilwell, was named first runner-up, with Danya Pigeon, 15, of Tahlequah, named second runner-up. The Junior Miss Cherokee competition is held each year in conjunction with the Cherokee National Holiday. The Miss Cherokee competition is slated for 6 p.m. Saturday at Cornerstone Church in Tahlequah.