Young beauties in aged feathers

YOUNG CONTESTANTS compete in Junior American Indian Beauty Contest. Rachel Owen/East Oregonian photo

PENDLETON — The contestants at the Junior American Indian Beauty Contest on Thursday may have been young, but the dresses many of them were wearing weren’t.

Zoe Bevis, 10, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, crossed the stage in a fringed and beaded dress more than 80 years old.

“The dress was made by her great-great-grandmother and passed down,” said Zoe’s mother Rachel. “It’s been all over the place. Lots of powwows.”

Three Happy Canyon princesses have worn the dress. Zoe said she was excited to wear such a special dress for the beauty contest, even though it got pretty hot when the sun came out.

“I liked that we get to get up and wave. I like to do that. And I like that I get to wear makeup,” she said.

As each girl was announced during the contest, the emcee also discussed the history of the girl’s regalia, which counted for 50 percent of her score. Some girls were wearing items more than a century old, and many of the dresses had been worn by mothers, aunts or grandmothers who had served as Happy Canyon princesses.

In the end it was 12-year-old Kaiya Spencer, a Umatilla member from Pendleton, who took the crown. Second place went to Ella Mae Looney, 13, a Pendleton resident from the Yakama Nation. Third place went to Rosey Sams, 13, of the Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes.

Pageant organizer Mac Levy said getting to see the dresses, old and new, is one of the fun parts of the annual competition.

“There were a lot of beautiful girls and old dresses,” he said. “A lot of those dresses don’t come out very often so it’s a wonderful chance for the public to see them.”

Avery Allyn Quaempts, 5, was starting a new tradition with a dress her aunt made for her, but her family are no strangers to the Junior American Indian Beauty Contest. Her mother Carrie Sampson called the contest a “family tradition” and said she wanted her daughter to have the same experience she did.

“I did it when I was younger. I just want her to embrace her culture and be proud of it, and never be ashamed,” Sampson said.

Jessica Spencer, mother of contestants Leila Crane, 6, and Leilani Crane, 4, also said she wanted her daughters to participate in the beauty contest to teach them about their culture.

“I want them to have the confidence to stand up in front of a crowd, being proud of who they are and where they come from,” she said.

The contest opened with a moment of silence in memory of Lou Levy, the event’s founder, who died at the age of 94 just days before the beginning of Round-Up. Mac Levy said his father would “absolutely” have been happy to know the tradition was continuing despite his death and that the event was a success in its 52nd year.

“I’m very, very happy with how things went,” he said. “It went very, very well.” Numbers were up from last year, with 95 girls competing, and Levy said he didn’t envy the judges’ task of picking winners out of so many beautiful girls.

Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastore or 541-564-4536.

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