January 30th, 2014 Last Updated on: January 30th, 2014
Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Contributing Editor
Q) Congratulations! You are truly a lovely Miss Indian Nations! Please tell us about yourself? What do you want us to know about you?
A) My name is Alexandria Brooke Alvarez, I am Miss Indian Nations XXI, I am 26 years-old, and I graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University with an Associate in Liberal Arts, and a Bachelor of Arts in American Indian Studies. I completed two internships in the Washington Internships for Native Students (WINS) with Social Security in the Office of Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity, and then at the Environmental Protection Agency in the American Indian Environmental Office.
I currently work at the Sho-Ban News, our tribal newspaper, and was attending Idaho State University for the last two years, but this past fall I decided to take a year off so that I may put my whole heart into being Miss Indian Nations.
I am the daughter of Shirley and Vernon Alvarez of Fort Hall Idaho. I have two siblings whom I am extremely proud of, an older sister Staff Sergeant Brittinie Alvarez serving in the United States Air Force, and a younger brother Staff Sergeant Blake Alvarez serving in the United States Marine Corps.
I’m very proud to be able to say that I am the current vice president of Chief Tahgee Elementary Language Immersion School; last fall, we finally opened the doors to the first language immersion school in the state of Idaho. Language revitalization is important to me, so this was a tremendous accomplishment not only for me, but to the Tribe as a whole.
Q) What is your tribal heritage and affiliation? For those who might not know a lot about your tribe, how would you describe your people?
A) I am a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, from Fort Hall, Idaho. Located in Southeast Idaho, near Pocatello and Blackfoot Idaho.
My people’s homeland ranged from parts of Mexico and into Canada; we were hunters, fishermen, and gathers who followed the seasons. We are known for our excellence in beadwork, and brain tanned hides.
We still practice many of our traditional arts and ceremonies, and have had some good economic growth with our Hotel and Event Center. We have a casino, tribal museum, and several schools. And every year we have our annual Fort Hall Festival (which has made the top 10 things to do in Idaho) and would love to invite people out to it! (Lol, free advertising!)
Q) What are some of your tribal ways that are especially precious to you?
A) I think my top two are language and cultural revitalization. Without language, my elders have told me that we would not be Indian people. Our languages are a gift from Creator, and are therefore extremely important to carry on. It has been a challenge, given the history of first contact with non-native people, walking in two worlds, and seeking education; but I am more than confident that language revitalization can happen if you have the heart and passion to learn.
Right now, I am focused on learning Shoshoni, and then I will learn Bannock. I am semi-fluent, and I can understand a great deal, but my goal is more than to be able to speak it; one of my aunties (Roanna Stump) said it beautifully when she said you have to be able to not only speak it, but understand it, live it, and dream it. This is a lifelong process, and I am chipping away a little at a time. We are on the right road, and I hope that not only younger generations, but also the adults in my life will commit to learning the language alongside our elders.
And 2nd cultural revitalization- we have a great need to continue teaching young (and older) people about traditional food, medicines, ceremonies, and traditional arts. I think that cultural revitalization will not only teach our people how to survive, but inspire our people to once again live alcohol and drug free lives. I’ve seen the power of the sweat lodge, of elders teaching young people how to “take care” of an buffalo after it’s taken down.
Get involved in your community, when attending events, pay attention; it’s amazing how much you can learn at powwows from just listening to the MC.
And I would like to encourage tribal nations who have an opportunity to learn from a local events at home to take full advantage; because one day our elders will be gone, and we will be looking to them for guidance, and soon enough it will be my generations turn as well. We must ensure for the next 7 generations, and we cannot do it without one another. J
Q) Powwows are very important to many of our Native people, including all of us here at Powwows.com. Do you attend powwows? What do powwows mean to you? Why do you think powwows are important?
A) I love powwows! I am a traditional dancer, and its always exciting to travel to powwows that you may have never been too- like I’ll always remember the first time I went into grand entry at Denver March– took my breath away!
Powwows to me are precious; the best way I can explain it is the way my auntie Sherlynn Slim said- When you dance, you are dancing for the people, you dance for those who cannot dance, who may be injured, or perhaps old or sick. You can heal people with the way you dance. Dancing is a ceremony in itself, and when you are out there, have good thoughts and pray; you may be making an elder or child smile.
So I always think of those things when I first go out into grand entry and it gives me a lot of confidence; I don’t really compete partly because I’m still doing my best to learn to be a champion dancer, but also because I never want to lose sight of how I feel when I dance. I never want to think of just winning; and sometimes it’s a little sad to see your favorite dancer only in competition, but sitting around during intertribals, so I try to get up and dance every intertribal to not only practice, but be there in the moment, and to enjoy myself.
And now that I am a representative, it’s a little easier to encourage kids to come out and dance with you, because they think you look cool, and they’ll rush out there to hold your hand. Sometimes they just need a little extra positive encouragement.
Powwows are important for several reasons. First of, it’s a way for people to express themselves whether in what they wear or dance style, and in my experience, has been an excellent opportunity to teach non-Indians about tribal people. I think to many native people, including myself, it’s a way of life. It’s a way to carry on something beautiful, while also giving us a chance to be happy and healthy.
I just wanted to include that for anyone who has ever thought about dancing powwow, it’s never too late. Even if you’re a newcomer to it, we were all beginners. For myself, I stopped dancing for awhile when I was 16, and then picked it back up at age 23; at first I felt silly that I was in my 20s and not a pro compared to my younger peers. But the advice my auntie gave me about dancing for the people encouraged me to keep at it, and to love it. Dance because it brings you happiness.
Q) We'd love to hear about your journey to become Miss Indian Nations! How did you decide to pursue this title? What was the it like when you heard the announcement that you won? Has your life changed since then? If so, how?
A) If you were to ask me 7 years ago if I would consider running for a national title, the younger me would have said “No way!”
Back then, I had a fear of public speaking, lack of confidence, and was just too shy or nervous; so for me, it has taken a lot of educational and worldly experience to evolve into who I am today. But understanding who I am as a native person has been key to keeping me grounded, and of course having many great mentors like Howard Rainer, Chance Rush, Faith Spotted Eagle, and identifying my Indian heros like former Miss Indian Nations Everetta Thinn, former Miss Indian World Jessa Rae Growing Thunder, Billy Mills, Ernie Stevens, Vine Deloria, and countless elders from numerous tribes including my own have inspired the desire to figure out ways of how I could give back, or inspire other youth, especially younger girls to always reach for the stars.
I give a lot of credit to Everetta Thinn; during her reign we were interning together in Washington, D.C. under the WINS Program and she encouraged me a lot, and told me she believed that I could become a Miss Indian Nations one day. And that’s all it really took, just one inspiring person to tell you that they believe in you- so in return I began also believing in myself, and began to realize that this was opportunity to give back, and share my experiences with young people.
I’d also like to give credit to my incredible mother; Shirley Alvarez. She had been there every step of the way, encouraging me to pursue my dreams. Without her, I would have never made it this far; I have learned a lot about how to carry myself as a young woman, because she is so strong, and raised 3 kids on her on after her and my dad split. She has been a constant mentor, cheerleader, critic, and unconditional love and supporter.
It was truly a dream come true when they announced that I was the new Miss Indian Nations, the road leading up to it was an incredible journey, but nothing could prepare me for the way it changed my life, because it really has.
The United Tribes Technical College is really involved in their media arts, and before I could make an announcement to my friends and family on Facebook, it was already out there! It was crazy how everyone found out, I guess it’s a sign of the times.
Winning also made me realize that it took so much to get here; time, dedication, heart, and I had to distance myself from my social life to focus practicing public speaking, and for the talent portions, but definitely worth every minute.
On the last day when all the girls and I sat together for the final day, it was surreal. I remember feeling like my heart was going to jump out of my chest, my stomach felt overwhelmed with butterflies, and mentally I was trying to tell myself to relax. The other 5 girls that I competed with were extremely talented and gifted; anyone of them was just as deserving as I was, so you can imagine the feeling of excitement generated not only from the contestants, but from our families as well. And when they did announce that I was the winner I cried; I cried for happiness, for my newfound sisters, and for the opportunities ahead.
Since winning, my life changed a lot in the ways I view myself; I believe in myself more, and I’m excited to be as active as I can, and to bring honor and pride as a representative of this crown.
Q) What are some of the experiences that you are having as a titleholder? We'd enjoy hearing some of your stories!!
A) So far, I have attended the National Indian Education Association Convention held in Rapid City, South Dakota. Traveled to Fort Duchesne, Utah to attend a Thanksgiving powwow, and out to Washington D.C. to Andrews Joint Base to give a presentation about Native American Heritage month. In December, I went back to South Dakota and attended the Lakota Nation Invitational, and the 1st Annual Fashion Week hosted by the Edison Ritchie Project and Lakota Ways Production. At home, I have continued to be involved at local powwows and events. Just this past week I marched and attended a program to honor Martin Luther King Jr. at Idaho Statue University alongside the Native Americans United Club, Miss Native ISU, and Miss Shoshone-Bannock.
I feel extremely honored to be representing, and to have the opportunity to travel and be a part of all these activities, but I think the best moments are the opportunities to speak to some of the children.
My favorite moment right now was the day after I was crowned, a grandmother approached me and asked me if I could take a picture with her granddaughter, because I was her favorite princess, and she wanted to be like me one day. This little girl was around 5 years old, and it really touched my heart! It’s some of the littlest moments that have had the most profound effect.
Q) Have you learned any life lessons during your reign? During your journey to the title?
Most definitely. I think one of the keys to being a representative is that sooner or later your going to run into someone who wants to be critical of what your doing; so you must always be prepared to have a sense of humor, and let it roll off your back. It’s not worth it to give in to self doubt, and get down on yourself, because often in lift, those who have the harsh words to say in actuality are jealous; I know it sounds typical to say, but it’s all true. You are fulfilling a dream that may have gotten away from them.
I think another life lesson is that whether you are wearing the crown or not, you have to be aware of how you are conducting yourself to people at all times. And no matter what, be nice to people. Say hello and smile at people, it can really take you far when people remember you as a nice person.
During my journey a life lesson that I learned is that you don’t always win; this was actually my 2nd time trying out for the title, and last year (2012) I came in 1st attendant, and it created a little doubt within myself. I thought, ‘maybe this isn’t the road Creator wants me to follow’, and I wondered what I could have done better. But the title was a dream of mine, and I didn’t want to give up, so out of losing, it gave me even more drive and determination to go for it again, and even though I gave 100% during my 1st attempt, I would give 200% this second go around. I devoted time, and put a lot of work into every aspect of my presentations, and it paid off. The lesson: Never give up on your dreams. J
Being Miss Indian Nations now has given me a deeper appreciation of the road it took to get me here.
Q) Everyone has obstacles to overcome. How did you deal with difficulties in your life?
A) All the difficulties I have ever faced were never greater than the power of prayer. Prayer has been my ultimate weapon in whatever I may have faced; family, friends, and people are all going to fail you at sometime in your life, but as long as you can turn to prayer and the Creator, you will never have to feel alone in any challenge. That was something I learned from Howard Rainer, and the power of prayer has served me well, and continues to help give me guidance.
Surround yourself with positive people who are going to encourage your dreams. That means you also got to distance yourself from any negative people in your life, which can be hard to do (especially if there family), I don’t think you have to cut them completely out of your, but life is far too short to waste any time on being unhappy.
And lastly, I think you have to believe in yourself. If you can believe it, you can achieve it. You have to have a deep desire within to succeed, and always do your best.
Even if you mess up a little during a presentation, dust your shoes off, and tell yourself there will be another opportunity to be better, I learned a lesson.
Q) What are your goals and plans for the future?
Right now I’m a crossroads. I think I’m either going to attend Law School, or study Linguistics and bilingual education so that I may become a teacher. This year I’m going to be researching schools, graduate programs, and law schools, and do some deep soul searching for my future. But continuing school is definitely my main goal right now.
I hope to one day maybe be able to join the peace corp. for a few years, and give back to the world, before I can dedicate my life to people and other tribes. I have truly found joy being involved and making a difference in the lives of young people, and trying to help them see that they can be successful.
Q) What advice would you give someone just starting out in pageants and/or powwows? What do you wish you knew before you started?
A) The best advice that I can give is to believe in yourself; that’s where it all starts. You don’t have to be the best dancer or the best public speaker in the world, but you have to believe in yourself, and work to being both a great dancer and speaker. It doesn’t happen overnight, so I would encourage youth to practice, practice, practice; every now and then I still get scarred or intimidated, but my desire to do my best keeps me going.
Even if you don’t win the first time doing something, have someone give you some constructive criticism. It may be hard to hear at first, but if you take what they say to heart in a positive way, you can up your game from being just a good dancer, to being one of the best dancers around. The same goes for pageants, maybe you don’t realize when you speak you look at the ground, and people can tell you to hold you head high, which will make you look more confident to being a representative.
One of the things I wish I would have known is that it’s ok to ask for help; don’t be afraid to ask someone for help or ask questions if you don’t know the answer; for example: your at a local powwow and they ask you to lead in all the dancers, and you’ve never done it before, don’t be afraid to tell them that, and ask them what exactly they want you to do, it will definitely save you time from being lost and feeling miserable.
Never underestimate the power of a smile. In whatever you do and wherever you go, always smile. People will have positive notions of who you are, and if you are representing they will often think that you’re a nice person, and often that can lead to networking or friendship opportunities.
Have a support system; whether that’s your parents, sisters, brothers, or friends; it’s nice to know that you can have someone to talk to if your having a rough day.
And finally- have fun! Make the most out of every opportunity that comes your way no matter how big or small. Being a titleholder shouldn’t just feel like a job, it should be something fun that you will have lasting memories to cherish, and new friendships.
Q) Anything else you'd like to share with us?
A) I love making new friends and traveling the world; this last summer I went backpacking in Europe for 6 weeks, and it was the experience a lifetime! I traveled to 7 different countries, adding to a total of 12 different countries I have traveled to. I have traveled extensively throughout the United States, and have been to 26 different states.
I love learning about different cultures and I find it fascinating to see how people live around the world, but always carry a deep fondness in my heart for indigenous cultures. I also love learning about my own tribe as well as other tribes in the Americas. We are so deeply blessed as native people, and I am so proud of where I come from.
Q) Thank you so much for sharing with us!
A) Again, thank you for the opportunity to share!
Dr. Dawn Karima hosts A CONVERSATION WITH DAWN KARIMA, a Native Radio Show that airs on TalktainmentRadio.com and its affiliates.
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