Reunions and Legacy
Almost thirty years after the last MIA contest, local historian and librarian Judy Slack reached out to past winners and invited them back for a reunion at the 2013 Sheridan WYO Rodeo.
The rodeo board honored the former MIAs by naming them the Grand Marshals of the parade. Twelve past Miss Indian America winners, nearly half of the surviving ones, returned to Sheridan. The title holders attended the rodeo and danced at the Crow-sponsored powwow. They were also honored at a luncheon where many of them spoke about the importance of MIA and the townspeople of Sheridan to their lives. Joe Medicine Crow, once the master of ceremonies, attended the luncheon to honor the women and the town. Many of the women had gone on to successful careers as artists, lawyers, educators, and all-around advocates for their communities.
The reunion was the first time many past Miss Indian America winners had met each other. It was the 60th anniversary of the crowning of the first Miss Indian America, Arlene Wesley who was present with her family at the reunion. The gathering ignited a sense of sisterhood among the past winners and jumpstarted many collaborations, including several more reunions and new projects to promote American Indian women. They include the first art show to feature Native American women artists held in Sheridan in 2015 with five former MIAs sharing their artwork.
What began as a dream of a small western town and members of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations has become an ongoing collaboration that continues to promote improved Indian and white relations and the lives and rights of American Indians.
Many of the people who came back to celebrate MIA pageant and the town of Sheridan at the 2013 reunion include: Standing: Left to right Wonda Johnson, Susan Arkeketa, Melanie Tallmadge, Sharron Ahtone, Michele Portwood, Vivan Arviso, Charles Russell (Lucy Yellowmule’s son), deana jo harragarra, Jerilyn Lebeau, and Sarah Johnson.
Seated: Left to Right Claire Manning, Joe Medicine Crow, and Arlene Wesley
Seated in front: Luzenia Russell, and Taliya Russell (granddaughters of Lucy Yellowmule)
The Sheridan WYO rodeo organizers welcomed back the MIA pageant winners in 2013. Miss Indian America has long been a source of pride and heritage for the town. Their images appear in the local library and ranch store.
The Kalif Shriners organization was one of the original sponsors and promoters of the Miss Indian American pageant. They are shown here on their commemorative float during the parade at the 2013 rodeo and reunion. Photo credit: Cindy Ott