Why it All Ended
From its conception, the MIA pageant struggled with funding, though finances worsened in the 1970s when the regional economy was in the doldrums. AAID, the organization which hosted the contest, also faced political controversy at the time with the rise of the American Indian Movement in the early 1960s and the “Red Power” movement in the early 1970s. Indian activists sought greater control over Indian affairs, and aimed to draw recognition to the continued prejudices and injustices against Indian people. Fewer Natives participated in the late 1970s. They wanted instead to represent their own cultures on their own terms and in their own spaces. New Indian-organized and led events, such as the Miss Indian World pageant and the National Miss Indian USA pageant, gained relevance and popularity, taking the place of the MIA contest.
In 1983, the pageant was postponed by a year, as the MIA board attempted to find both sponsors and participants. In 1984, the board elected to move the pageant from Sheridan to Bismarck, North Dakota: Bismarck’s United Tribes International Powwow. During its five-year tenure in Bismarck, the MIA pageant saw some renewed success. However, the North American Indian Foundation (NAIF), who hosted the MIA contest in Bismarck opted to end the contest in 1990 due to waning interest. The NAIF dissolved in 1999, and with it, the Miss Indian America contest altogether.
The Sheridan WYO Rodeo board now, in 2021, holds the copyright.
Jorja Oberly, Bobette Wildcat, Wonda Johnson, Deborah Secakuku, deana harragarra pictured in Bismarck, North Dakota in 1989 when the last Miss Indian America was crowned. The newer Miss Indian America logo is visible in the upper left hand corner. The new logo signified the revitalization and new direction for the Miss Indian America pageant. Credit: Photographer Unknown. All-American Indian Days collection, THE Wyoming Room, Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library, Sheridan, Wyoming.
The final Miss Indian America winner Wonda Johnson poses for a picture in Bismarck, North Dakota, 1989. Credit: Photographer Unknown. Provided by Wonda Johnson.