Outgoing Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger reflects on her unusual reign
Jeanette DeDios / NM News Port
Nothing could have prepared Cheyenne Kippenberger, former Miss Seminole, as she stood around her Miss Indian World competitors, all waiting for their names to be called at the Gathering of Nations in 2019.
“I was nervous, I was excited. I was just unsure of what the next two minutes was gonna hold. I was just in my head and I was praying. I don’t even think I was really worried about everybody in the arena. I was in a room full of people but I felt like I was the only one there,” Kippenberger said from her home in Florida.
And then she heard her own name announced as Miss Indian World.
“I was filled with so much joy in my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alive before. It was such a beautiful moment. I wanted the creator to know whether I had gotten crowned or not, I was still really happy. I literally start crying every time I see the video,” Kippenberger said.
Kippenberger made history as the first Seminole to ever earn the crown of Miss Indian World and she said she was proud to be able to share her culture with people she met during her reign. Yes, she’s Seminole, but she’s also a Florida girl and her hobbies include alligator wrestling. “They’re surprised but that’s super normal back home,” she said.
Each winner inhabits the role in her own way. “‘The crown doesn’t make you, you make the crown,’ that’s what former Miss Indian World Taylor Susan said to me,” Kippenberger recalled.
Being Miss Indian World offers the opportunity to travel, and Kippenberger even got to visit New Zealand. “A little piece of me was left everywhere that I went,” she said.
No matter how far she traveled, Kippenberger said she always felt like she was treated like family. “I swear I probably gained five pounds. When you look at the beginning of my reign, I was so skinny. We had to open up all my dresses, but I don’t even regret it. Because everywhere I went, I was fed so well,” she said.
Kippenberger treasures her beaded crown and sash, made by longtime Gathering of Nations artist Naan Yellowmule-Gallegos, who is half Pawnee and Crow. “I feel like I’m literally wearing artwork when I wear my crown and my sash. I know how much time and energy gets put into the design, preparation, and beading.
Kippenberger spent months preparing her dresses for the pageant, laboring over the colors, styles, beading and details. “We’re taught that when we make things, whether it’s baskets or beadwork or sewing. what you’re feeling in those moments, is what goes into what you make.” She and her sister poured tons of love into their work, she said.
Her reign lasted longer than usual because of the pandemic. No pageant was held in 2020, so she served until the end of April. Organizers decided to leave the post vacant until the next pageant could take place in 2022.
“I felt a big obligation to be there for our people because we are in this pandemic which has been so hard on all of us emotionally, spiritually, and physically,” she said. “As Natives, we’re communal people, so it’s been so hard having to stay away from each other and not have ceremonials and not have powwows. I felt like I had to be a sense of normalcy, another sense of hope for our people, and I feel like any Miss Indian World would have done it.”
“I think I finally know what I want to do with my life. I was very lost for a long time, I dropped out of high school for a little bit, I wasn’t always very confident in my abilities, my knowledge, or even my identity. Native pageantry has helped me find myself. It’s helped me answer who Cheyenne is, what Cheyenne’s going to do, and what type of woman she wants to be,” she said.
Jeanette DeDios is a reporter for NM News Port and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.