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Talking With Miss Indian World Marjorie Tahbone

Crowned Miss Indian World 2011-12 at the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Marjorie Tahbone, 22, (Inupiaq/Kiowa, she is half Inupiaq on her mother’s side and half Kiowa on her father’s side) from Nome, Alaska, will spend the next year encouraging other girls to aim high for opportunities in their lives.

Her own life rooted in tradition has been interesting already – growing up with parents Sandra and Carleton Tahbone, the family led a subsistence lifestyle fishing and hunting, picking berries and edible plants, and preparing ugruk (bearded seal), alviq (walrus) and tuttuvak (moose) to store for winter. Now majoring in Alaska Native Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Marjorie has traveled to the far northern reaches of Canada to study similarities to her native Inupiaq language of Alaska. In spare time in the summer, she works as a fisheries biologist studying salmon.

During much of the coming year she will travel around North America and parts of the world as an ambassador for all the nations, part of the responsibility that the Miss Indian World title carries.

At the end of a five-day competition at the recent Gathering of Nations, Tahbone did not expect to hear her name called. She didn’t know that she had accumulated the most points overall in the contest that covered public speaking, private interviews with the judges, a dance competition and a display of traditional talent.

Tahbone came into the contesta the Gathering of Nations as the reigning Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, her talents displayed the skills that are traditionally important for strength and survival. The one-foot high kick and the one-arm reach “wowed” the sell-out audience, she acknowledged. For the one-arm reach, first, you balance on one hand. Then you reach overhead with the other arm and touch a ball suspended high overhead. Not surprisingly, two past Alaskan natives who were Miss WEIO winners had also gone on to win Miss Indian World: Andrea Jack (1996-97) and Nicole Colbert (2008-09.)

I talked with Tahbone about what led her to the crown, and where she will take it.

What message would you like to carry as Miss Indian World when you’re speaking this coming year?

"Of course, it will always depend on where I’m speaking, but generally, I like to talk about how important it is to go and learn new things in a different area. That’s what I did. It was difficult coming from a small community where we are surroundd by family and friends and we don’t want to leave. Rural communities in Alaska have a low rate of native youth going to college and staying in college; they don’t want to leave their hometown. Here in Alaska, I’ll be encouraging that willingness to go out and step out of your bubble."

Who or what encouraged you to go out and learn new things?

"It definitely wasn’t just one moment that made it happen; it was a buildup created by the entire community giving me a strong foundation, and my family members were great motivators. I could talk to them when I needed help with some type of issues. I had gotten involved in different activities and clubs -- I was student body president – and I love talking with people. I was able to talk in front of people without being nervous, and since I could, I felt an obligation to meet kids and to be a voice for the people. I fell in love with it and kept doing it."

Why did you choose Nunavut, Canada, for your school work study program? I read that it is one of the most remote and sparsely settled regions in the world.

"It would seem that if I studied abroad, I would pick someplace where it was hot and nice! But it was a learning experience and I loved it there. The Inuit culture is the same as ours here in Alaska, I actually have relatives who traveled there who walked all the way to Nunavut. I wanted to learn about their different dialects and bring it back here.”

What was your summer job as a fisheries technician restoring fisheries in Nome’s rivers like?

"Right now what we are working on is development of salmon fisheries. We’re planting eggs in different rivers and monitoring data, and counting fish at weirs and towers. The salmon population is now fluctuating, and in the Nome area we have five types of salmon. Our main priority in our monitoring now is chum salmon, coho and Chinook."

That demonstration of the one-foot high kick seems to have sealed your award for the traditional talent part of the competition. How high did you have to kick?

"It was about 5 foot 8, which is pretty low. I normally kick six foot and a half, but I set it lower for this competition, because I didn’t want to miss! The native games are traditionally important for survival and strength. In some communities, it’s still very helpful because they still hunt on the ice. The one-foot and the two-foot kick are signal games. A messenger comes from the group that is hunting on the ice, runs to the top of a hill, and if the village sees a one-foot-high kick, it means it was a successful hunt and the village needs to get ready to prepare the meat."

How did you feel when you won the title?

"It was pretty amazing when I heard my name announced. It just never occurred in my brain that it could happen. I had never been exposed to that here in Alaska, because we don’t really compete in these types of titles at this level. It’s a great feeling bringing it to the Alaskan people, I think also it will connect me to my other side, my Kiowa side. Having been raised in Alaska, I’ve been kind of disconnected with being closer to my heritage there. I have a lot of family in Oklahoma and Texas and it will be great to go there and learn a little of that. I’m super excited for this year. I always wanted to travel; now I have that opportunity and it’s pretty cool. I’ll probably have the chance to go to different countries, too.”