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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 15, 2001 - Issue 51


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Already an Educator, Miss Indian Oklahoma Passes on Knowledge


Lena Nells photoAlthough she hasn't yet earned her degree, future teacher Lena Nells is already doing her share of teaching.

The Tahlequah student recently was crowned Miss Indian Oklahoma for the coming year. She is of Cheyenne-Arapaho, Kickapoo and Navajo descent, but considers herself most strongly influenced by her Arapaho heritage. Her grandfather, William Pratt Jr., is full-blood Arapaho, and she has learned many things from him.

Nells has prepared for the pageant for years.

"I was making my way up to that, being princesses for other pageants," she said.

The state event is sponsored by the Oklahoma Federation of Indian Women. This year's theme was "Legacies of Leadership." Preliminary competition includes a written essay, interview in contemporary dress about current issues, and interview in traditional dress about the candidate's tribe and tribal regalia. Candidates must be 18 to 24 and at least one-quarter Indian blood.

Nells, 19, lives with her family north of Tahlequah and attends Bacone College. She will transfer to Northeastern State University this spring, where she plans to major in education.

Nells chose her grandfather for her escort so he could be recognized for the knowledge and traditional values he instilled in the family.

"If it hadn't been for him, our great-grandmother wouldn't have been inspired to go back to dancing and singing, and participating in our ceremonies," Nells said. "He brought that tradition back to our family, and our family has continued that tradition."

The entire family dances and performs. Nells believes strongly in keeping traditions alive.

"That's something I feel all Native Americans should continue to do, whether they have a title or not," she said.

Her platform is education - emphasizing the importance of making education known and available in the tribes. She believes people need "that knowledge of who we are, where we came from, and what has happened in the past."

Part of that education is a study of treaties and how they have misled the tribes over the years.

"We are just now recovering that education, and we are getting lands back," Nells said.

She thinks that since Indians are "a nation within a nation," they need strong tribal governments.

She has already made several appearances as Miss Indian Oklahoma, tailoring her presentations to the age group she is addressing. Indians walk in two worlds, and they should aim to be outside in the world they live in today.

Nells believes preserving the languages is paramount, and they must not die out when older Indians pass on. When speaking to young children, she introduces herself in Navajo and sings "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Jesus Loves Me" in that language. She tells them her name in Kickapoo.

She grew up in a military family and moved around a lot, so she met many people who had never been around Indians.

"The majority we encountered didn't even know we existed," she said. "We always knew we were different."

One way her family has kept alive and shared its traditions is by performing. She has performed since age 4. Her twin brother, Lee, went to Denmark as an international exchange student and has exhibited his paintings.

Her talent in the pageant was singing an Arapaho women's honor song. She also had to explain her traditional Northern Arapaho outfit.

Nells graduated as salutatorian of her class at Sequoyah High School, where she was named the class favorite, most talented, and most pride in heritage.

She likes Bacone because of the easy feeling on campus, the support from teachers, and the atmosphere. Among her honors at Bacone have been serving as Native American Student Association president and NASA princess.

Last week, she was in Oklahoma City to read a proclamation by Gov. Frank Keating, celebrating Native American Heritage Month in Oklahoma.

Her father, James, is on the staff at Bacone and SHS, and her mother, Daisy, is a homemaker and known for her arts and crafts.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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