Meet the Native contestants for Miss USA, Miss Teen USA
Indian Country Today
This year, the 69th Miss USA pageant and the 38th Miss Teen USA pageant will be taking place at the home of Elvis Presley: Graceland, Tennessee.
Indian Country has a reason to celebrate as two of the contestants are Native American. Miss Oklahoma Mariah Jane Davis is Choctaw, and Miss Teen Maine Grace Morey is Passamaquoddy.
Davis, if crowned, would be the first Native Miss USA in the pageant’s history.
Organizers say they’ve addressed safety concerns and will ensure all events and tours follow Shelby County Health Department COVID-19 protocols.
Miss Oklahoma Mariah Jane Davis, Choctaw
Davis is hopeful to get the title of Miss USA. She told Indian Country Today in an email that she is proud to represent her heritage in the pageant.
“I believe the representation of the Native American community can only increase!” she wrote. “While Miss USA has yet to crown a member of the Native American community, myself and other Native American state titleholders are working to increase representation across our country.
She added Miss USA has boosted her confidence, “whether it’s meeting and bonding with other strong women or just proving to myself that I can walk across that stage and celebrate my own unique beauty and not have to conform to someone else’s perception.”
Davis also said her background of struggle does not define who she is today.
“I think a misconception in the Native American community is that if you’re in a low-income household or in an at-risk community, pageants aren’t for you. Coming from both, I’m proof that you can excel and be embraced on a national stage.”
Davis says growing up in a low-income household while being raised by a single mother did take its toll. She says she made a terrible decision but ultimately grew from the experience.
“I struggled with mental health issues that led me to attempt to take my own life. Seeking mental health treatment is stigmatized, and I want to change that,” she wrote. “Research shows that Native American communities have disproportionally higher rates of mental health issues than the rest of the population, with children and adolescents being disproportionately impacted.”
She said she founded an organization called “Lift Up Your Sister” to create a safe mental space for women of diverse backgrounds.
“My pageant journey has taught me that confidence is one of the antidotes to self-doubt and self-defeating behaviors, and I want to use the confidence and platform I’ve earned to empower young women in Native American communities to persevere and achieve,” Davis wrote.
If she wins the Miss USA crown, she says she will use her platform to empower the Native community.
“The first thing I would do is make a statement to the Native American community to celebrate our achievement during Native American Heritage Month! As Miss USA, I would then collaborate with Native American partner organizations to host a series of virtual mental health town hall meetings to speak out against the stigmas surrounding mental health and share my story as a suicide survivor.
Davis said she would also work to include female tribal leadership from across the nation as partners and advisors, and leverage her relationship with organizations such as Nike N7.
“I am so grateful to the Choctaw Nation for their support — they are truly my family! Chahta hvpia hoke! (We Are Choctaw!)”
Miss Teen Maine Grace Morey, Passamaquoddy
Grace Morey told Indian Country Today she is glad to be representing her tribe in the pageant.
“While members and descendants of the Wabanaki tribes may not always be easily found, I am incredibly honored to have been passed down the Passamaquoddy name and proudly represent the stories and morals the tribe has always held close to heart,” said Morey.
“Being proud of, and open about the fact that I am a descendant of the tribe is truly where it starts. I have also sought to continue the environmental work of my ancestors, by creating the movement ‘Sustainability Starts With Me’ — sharing the importance of doing your part to protect and conserve our environment.
Morey says if she is selected, she will use her platform to help raise awareness of her passion for the environment.
“At the moment, the majority of climate activists are teens, just like me. It would be an honor to team up and work side by side with them, to face this relevant and pressing issue.”
As she goes forward into the event in Tennessee, Morey says she reflects on the words from her mother: “You may be only one person, but if 1 million people say ‘I’m only one person,’ then that’s 1 million people that could’ve made a difference.”
She said this quote “entirely changed my perspective for the better, and by sharing it with all of you, I pray it will give you a brand new, brighter perspective as well.”
The Miss Teen USA pageant will take place first on Saturday, and will stream on Miss Universe social media accounts. The Miss USA pageant will air at 8 p.m. EST on the FYI cable network.
Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. Email: email@example.com.
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