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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 12, 2002 - Issue 53


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Wichitan an Envoy for American Indians

by Joe Rodriguez The Wichita Eagle
credits: art by John Nieto
art by John NietoPonka-We Victors has spent a lifetime dancing the traditional steps of her American Indian ancestors.

Victors, 20, has learned the tongues of her Ponca and Tohono O'odham nations, and she knows the proud customs of her people.

In Spokane, Wash., in November, she earned an honor that she has dedicated to all those who taught her the Indian ways: the title of Miss National Congress of American Indians.

For Victors, the title means more than the rewards she reaped -- a $10,000 scholarship, a trophy and flowers, among other things.

"It's given me the chance to represent my Indian people," she said. "I think I owe them that much back for making me proud of who I am."

Victors of Wichita is a 1999 graduate of North High School and an Arizona State University junior majoring in biology. She became the first woman from Kansas to win the pageant in its more than 40-year history.

The national pageant is one of the two largest for American Indians and Alaska natives, according to the NCAI, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization for Indian tribes nationwide. It's the largest national American Indian- based organization, said Jacqueline Johnson, executive director.

Johnson said the title carries significant prestige among American Indians nationwide.

"Everybody seems to know" Miss NCAI, she said.

Johnson said Victors' primary responsibility will be to serve as a voice for young people at conferences and events this year.

She'll also likely become a role model to youths across the country.

"I'm happy that I get to set an example for our youth," Victors said.

Victors and the five other young women who competed for the title were judged on their knowledge of customs, tribal history and American Indian issues. Selection was also based in part on academic achievement, communication skills and personality. Contestants had to perform a talent -- Victors sang two tribal songs -- and dress in their tribe's traditional wear. They also had to speak some of their tribe's native language.

Victors' parents, Sandra and Juan, had always taught her about tribal languages, songs and traditions. She's also a champion Indian dancer.

"I've always been aware of my culture,..." she said. "It's very important to me that I know everything I can about both my tribes so I can pass that down."

Johnson said Victors' pride in her heritage was evident during the pageant.

"She has a neat spirit about herself," Johnson said. "She's fun, she has a great sense of commitment and a good, strong sense of who she is."

Sandra Victors said her daughter has always had "a lot of motivation and drive."

"Some of us want to follow, others want to lead," she said. "She's always been a leader."

Although she's had the title for a little more than one month, Victors has already visited a hospital and a children's home on an Arizona reservation. She has talked to kids about doing well in school.

She plans to do more of that kind of motivational speaking before her reign ends in November.

"If I can touch one child out there," she said, "if I can just touch one person and inspire them to lead and give them the encouragement to do their best in school, then I did my job, I feel."

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