FAIRBANKS — Marjorie Tahbone’s smile is visible across a room. Her laugh can be identified in its hearty bursts from even farther away. The 22-year-old has every reason to be happy — she was just crowned the 2011 Miss Indian World at the annual Gathering of Nations.
The title is given to a young indigenous woman from North America each year in a contest of skills. Tahbone has Inupiaq Eskimo and Kiowa indian heritages. She will essentially be the ambassador for more than 500 different nations in the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and Canada for the next year.
Tahbone grew up in Nome. She was active in high school, participating in Native youth organizations, speaking at conferences and leading her student council. She attends the University of Alaska Fairbanks for Alaska Native Studies and is learning more about her traditional Inupiaq language. In the summers, she spends most weekends at her family’s camp, hanging fish to dry, and works as a fisheries technician, restoring fisheries in Nome’s rivers.
Recently crowned Miss Arctic Native Brotherhood in Nome and Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks, Tahbone decided to take her talents to a North American level. Now, after impressing judges and a full house at Albuquerque, N.M.’s Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Tahbone’s cultural awareness, talents and positivity are going to be visible worldwide.
In the next year, Tahbone’s schedule is tightly packed. She’ll be traveling places nearly every two weeks. She’ll be hitting spots around Alaska, events in Florida, Texas and Montana, and perhaps as far as China and New Zealand. It also means she’s switching her school load to correspondence classes during her reign.
Winning the title was no easy task.
She had to speak publicly, have private interviews with the judges and dance to PowWow music. It was her talent presentation that sealed the deal for her, though. She gave a demonstration of Alaska Native games, including the one-arm reach and one-foot high kick. She explained the games were traditionally important for survival and strength. She said she really “wowed the audience,” but didn’t think it was enough.
“I didn’t think I won,” she said. Other contestants won small titles like “Best Public Speaker,” “Best Essay” or “Miss Congeniality.” As the runner ups for Miss Indian World were announced, Tahbone thought her “Most Talented” title was as far as she’d get.
It turns out, although she didn’t win other titles, she had the highest average score across all categories.
“They picked the most rounded woman,” she said.
It’s hard for Tahbone to compare the Gathering of Nations to other conferences or events she’s attended. She said there were tens of thousands of people.
“I can’t even describe it — It was so crazy.”
Tahbone received a towering yellow-beaded crown and beaded sash. The sash enveloped her small frame with intricate designs. Already dressed in a traditional squirrel parka, the added accessories made things a little hot.
Along with the crown and sash, though, came a cool $2,750 check and opportunities to spread her message in the coming year.
Contact staff writer Reba Lean 459-7523.