HURON, S.D. - Vanessa Short Bull of Rapid City, 22, who has received numerous pageant titles, became the first Native American to be crowned Miss South Dakota State Fair.
Short Bull, a political science major at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The daughter of Thomas and Darlene Short Bull, she is a descendant of Chief Red Cloud and Ghost Dance leader Short Bull.
She spoke as part of a panel celebrating Native American Day at the fair, responding to questions from the audience about why she continues to participate in pageants.
Short Bull, who reigned as Miss South Dakota USA 2000 and Miss Sioux Empire, said besides having fun, pageants offer her scholarships providing some financial independence while going to school. She is considering law school.
Short Bull received a $1,000 scholarship as part of the state fair title.
Earlier this year, she entered the 55th annual Miss South Dakota Scholarship Program, competing for more than $22,100 in scholarships, prizes worth nearly $164,000 and entry to the Miss America finals in Atlantic City. But, she said she was second runner up. As
State Fair Queen, she will be eligible to again compete for Miss South Dakota in June.
Short Bull said she is paving the way for many young Native American women by helping to change perceptions. She views the pageants as one more vehicle Native Americans can use to showcase their talents.
With a dizzying schedule, Short Bull found herself being shuttled across the fairgrounds to appear at nearly every imaginable event. While heat bothered many, she stood in a suit prepared to graciously greet fair-goers.
Short Bull said a Native American winning the fair crown showed that the people in the state are slowly overcoming their negative perceptions of American Indian people. She said it was helpful diminishing the stereotypes that have followed many while they are trying to achieve their goals.
"It fuels your fire to succeed and prove they are wrong."
Short Bull has done more than college and pageants. She performed in the play "Indian Radio Days" at South Dakota State University in Brookings last year, entertaining and educating the audience with her comedic delivery and relating experiences with her grandmothers as part of the character.
Short Bull gives the grandmothers credit for much of her success because of the lessons she learned from them on the Pine Ridge reservation. Her rich stories about her close relationship with them and her expression of their humor helped her win the Miss South Dakota title, she said.
She added she is hoping her efforts help bridge the gap between South Dakotans and further opportunities for the next generation of Native American women.
The fair queen said she was thrilled to be the first Native American crowned Miss South Dakota State Fair in a year when Native Americans were honored with the fair's first Native American Day.