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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today

The Miss USA 2021 pageant in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this year was a special kind of homecoming for Tanya Crowe.

Her Choctaw ancestors had been forced to relocate to Oklahoma from Mississippi with the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in the early 1800s, and she was honored to return as Miss Louisiana for the competition.

“It was really cool that Miss USA happened in Oklahoma, a couple hundred miles from where my family actually got sent to,” she said. 

Miss Louisiana Tanya Crowe, who is of Choctaw and Chappepeela descent, competed in the Miss USA pageant on Nov. 29. 2021 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was in the top 16 finalists. She is shown here in the evening gown competition. (Photo courtesy of Miss USA)

Her family later relocated to Louisiana, where Crowe has worked as a model, New Orleans Saints cheerleader and as a cosmetologist, in addition to helping with her family’s dairy farming operation.

The reigning Miss Louisiana 2021, Crowe made it into the top 16 of the Miss USA pageant before Miss Kentucky Elle Smith took the crown. The pageant was held in November at the River Spirit Casino Resort, which is owned and operated by the Muskogee (Creek) Nation.

At one point during the competition, Crowe wore a feathered outfit traditionally worn during Mardi Gras.

“I feel super, super proud,” she told Indian Country Today by phone. “Like I accomplished something I'd worked so hard for, so I definitely am taking it all in for sure.”

Embracing diversity

Crowe, 28, a pageant veteran since 2015, has ties to both the Choctaw and Chappepeela tribes of Louisiana. She is the daughter of Talbert and Jody Crowe, and has a younger brother, Cody.

The family operates a dairy farm near New Orleans.

“I believe we're seventh-generation dairy farmers, and that's what my family has always done,” she said. “For as long as we can remember, we've been farmers across the country and we still have it going today. So that's a little bit of my background and where I come from and why I'm so passionate about my heritage.”

Crowe says her diverse background plays a large part in how she conducts herself and how she views other cultures.

“It allows me to just be super considerate to so many cultures around me, and especially living in a state like Louisiana, where we are literally the melting pot of cultures and ethnicities and extreme diversity down here,” she said. “And it comes together so peacefully. I love being involved in that and being a part of that.”

Being close to New Orleans has its advantages. Although she lives about an hour north of New Orleans, she spent four years with the New Orleans Saintsations cheerleading and dance squad, until retiring in October 2021.

“New Orleans is like a second home to me,” she said.

It was those connections that led to the wild, feathered outfit she sported during the pageant.

“I was very fortunate,” she said. “The people in town here are just super giving, and I was reaching out ‘cause I knew I wanted to represent Louisiana as best I could. And growing up down here, obviously Mardi Gras is a huge, very, very diverse, melting pot tradition that we have. And I reached out to several Mardi Gras parade crewes, that I had very good connections with and they said, ‘Do you want to wear one of our costumes?’ And it was really awesome.

“It's an authentic, vintage costume that’s 20-plus-years old, and they revamped it and updated it a little bit. And they said, “Here, take it! Go do the thing! Represent us!’ They were so excited about it. Didn't charge me anything. They were just so supportive that I was going up there and displaying what Louisiana's all about. And I think I did exactly that.”

The outfit has meaning beyond just being a feathered showstopper.

“Basically that costume was originally designed for one of the Queens, for the crewe of Houma, I believe,” she said. “And in her design, she specifically just wanted to represent the colors of the costumes.”

What’s next?

Crowe is a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in international business studies. In addition to her involvement with her family’s farming and agriculture business, she is a licensed cosmetologist and owns a business called Jo Tuklo Artistry.

She began her modeling career with the International Model & Talent Agency in Los Angeles. She has worked professionally as a spokesmodel and runway/print ad model for numerous national and international companies that air on major television networks.

And she is already looking ahead.

“I have two more months left as Miss Louisiana,” she said. “The biggest thing that I would love to continue to do is make my career of modeling full-time, whether it's runway, print, ad, or a spokesmodel, which I've been doing pretty heavily since I was 20. I'd love to continue to do that and just expand on the level that I'm doing it. I would love to make that international as well, and build off of my cosmetology career.”

Her big goal is to have a hair or makeup product line geared toward Indigenous women. From dairy farmer to pageant queen, Crowe sets her goals high.

“I'm excited to see the path of where that takes me because it is on my bucket list to get that in production,” she said.

But family ties call her, too.

“As for our dairy farm, I don't know if I'll ever be able to leave it completely,” she said. “My brother is two years younger than me. He's actually begun to take it over. So I'll still have that to run back to if I need to get a little taste of home … I'm going to expand myself and my personal brand and my personal ambitions, but it'll still be here for me to come home to. If I need to.”

For more info

Follow Tanya Crowe’s reign as Miss Louisiana on Instagram.

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