Former Miss WEIO looks back, plans ahead
Last month, the 2016 titleholder of Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, Utqiaġvik's own Jalene Nasuayaaq Kanayurak, 23, passed on the crown to her successor, Olivia Piiyuuk Shields, of Toksook Bay. With her reign at an end, Kanayurak spoke with the Sounder about the last 12 months and what she's got coming up next.
Q: You were crowned in the summer of 2016. How did you get started on this journey to becoming Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) last year?
A: I actually did the Miss Teen Top of the World when they first started it. I believe that was when I was in middle school. After that, I wanted to go for the Miss Top of the World title once I was 18 and going to college. It took me a couple of tries to get the Miss Top of the World crown and sash. This last year was my third time trying. Once I got the crown, I was coached by my sister, Nicole, and she helped me prepare for the impromptu speeches and traditional talent. We did that before WEIO.
Q: What was it about these pageants that interested you when you were younger and has that stayed the same for you?
A: I kind of liked how everyone was just so positive. They helped you if you needed help. Everyone just had a positive attitude. But, I also like the competitiveness.
Q: Tell me a little bit about what it felt like when you found out you'd gotten Miss Top of the World and then Miss WEIO the same year. What was going through your head when you realized you'd gone that far?
A: For Miss Top of the World, I was happy just because it was my third time trying and, in my head, it was just one of my goals that I accomplished. When I the won Miss WEIO pageant, I was overwhelmed with happiness.
Q: What were the traditional skills you presented during that portion of the pageant and where did you get the idea for doing them?
A: I braided the seal intestines as my traditional talent. I got that idea from my auntie and my aaka. What they were doing is braiding the intestines for food and whatnot and I thought it was different from what most people do for their talents. I'd never braided intestines before until I was practicing for the pageant. They inspired me to take that talent because it was different. It was something I was learning and I wanted to do something I was learning. Last year, I caught my first ugruk (bearded seal), so I wanted to use that at WEIO because when you catch your first animal, you give some of it away.
Q: Tell me about catching your first ugruk and what that experience was like for you.
A: I thought it was very exciting. We were out on our boat and we didn't really see much the whole day. All of a sudden this huge ugruk popped up and me and my brother were up front. My dad turned around and it was gone and staying out. I shot and once we saw it was wounded, we sped up and my brother was trying to harpoon it. The first time he missed so we had to go around and the ugruk was still swimming with its head up. One of my cousins was in the back and he had a harpoon. He didn't get it either. My brother got his harpoon back and it took us five tries to get the ugruk. After the third try, we couldn't find it for a while, so we thought we lost it and we were about to leave. We were about 10 feet away from it and my sister saw it pop its head back up, so we turned around and my cousin tried and missed and my brother tried and we finally got it.
Q: What did it feel like to use an ugruk you had a hand in catching and that was such an important moment for you?
A: I was just really proud of myself because it took us a whole day to cut it up. It was kind of my first one so I was just really excited and proud. I got to explain the hunting story while I was down at WEIO.
Q: What do you think the traditional talent component brings to the Miss Top of the World and Miss WEIO pageants? How does it make them different?
A: I think the traditional talent brings us back into our culture to figure out what our passion is from our culture. Some are really good dancers. Some are really good storytellers or singers. It brings us back and makes us think about what we really like to do. I think it makes us all unique.
Q: Now that you've gone through it, what do you see as the role of Miss WEIO and what did you dedicate yourself to using that title?
A: I think Miss WEIO is an inspiration to young women. You just kind of play a positive role model not only to the youth but also with your peers. This year, while I was reigning, I participated in a lot of health-related things. My platform was healthy living. When I got back, I did the Fun Run, which is a 5K run around town. After that, I did the health fairs that the North Slope Borough puts on. I made a board about suicide prevention, drug and alcohol abuse, and diabetes, and I went to Point Lay and Point Hope for the fairs. I also did one in Utqiaġvik. After that, I went back to Point Lay. I was working as a nurse with one of the physician's assistants that we have at the hospital, so I was working down there. I talked to a lot of the youth at the school, which was really fun. Around Christmas, I did Eskimo and WEIO games practice with the kids in Utqiaġvik. That was really fun. We also had Kivgiq that we have every other year up here. I participated as one of the dancers. After that, I went to Miss Indian World in April down in Albuquerque, N.M., and that was an amazing pageant. It's held during the Gathering of Nations and that's the biggest pow-wow in the nation.
Q: Why did you decide to do healthy living and health and wellness as your platform?
A: I chose healthy living because growing up, I saw a lot of my friends start smoking at a young age, doing drugs and alcohol at a young age. Now, I see the effects of that, being a nurse at our hospital. Many people have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), they have asthma, and some people don't eat very well. It affects your whole well-being. I think people should choose a healthy lifestyle. Being a nurse, I care about people's health. I don't want to just tell people to eat healthy and exercise, I wanted to do mental health also. I incorporated that when I went to the villages. I did a suicide awareness board for Point Hope and Point Lay. Without everything in balance, mentally, physically, spiritually, your health is kind of off. That's how I see it. That's why I wanted to incorporate everything with my platform.
Q: What advice would you give to Olivia Piiyuuk Shields, who's taking over as Miss WEIO this year?
A: I would say, stay positive, just because sometimes it may seem like you're not doing as much as you should. Get involved with your community. There's always events going on. Just know there are young girls and women looking up to you because you're the person who inspires them. You're the positive role model for them.
Q: What are you doing next in your own life?
A: I just transferred over to the emergency room, so I'm excited to be an ER nurse now. I'm also going to Miss Native American USA pageant down in Arizona. I've been preparing all my things again to go down there. We'll be judged on the same things. While I'm down there, for my talent I'll be doing the one-foot high kick. We didn't get any seal this year. I'll be doing the kick because I like doing the Inupiaq games and I think it's fun. It's one of the things I'm good at.
Q; Why do you think these pageants, in general, produce good and healthy role models for girls?
A: I think these pageants create good role models because we go out in the community and put on events or attend events that relate to the community. It kind of makes you a leader. It makes you go out and participate in what your community is doing. While you're doing it it inspires others to do the same thing.
Q: What advice would you give to a young person?
A: My advice for a little girl who would be looking up to me would be go for your goals, no matter what. Even if it gets rough or if it's smooth sailing, go for your goals and never give up because you can accomplish it within time. It took me three different tries to get the Miss Top of the World pageant, so I would tell a little girl to never give up.
Shady Grove Oliver can be reached at email@example.com.