San Diego Union-Tribune (Sunday)


Palomar College student will don traditiona­l Luiseño clothing during contest


Described by her mom as the “Basketball Queen,” Palomar College student Cynthia Bond was never interested in participat­ing in beauty pageants or powwow princess competitio­ns while growing up.

Bond has always been athletic and considers herself shy, which made it all the more surprising when she announced to her family three months ago she’d be competing in the Miss Indian World pageant.

This week, the enrolled member of the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians travels to Albuquerqu­e, N.M., to compete with 26 young, Indigenous women from across the United States and Canada during the Gathering of Nations Powwow. Held throughout the weekend of April 2729, the contest will be livestream­ed on

Although she was initially nervous to announce her decision to her family, Bond said she ultimately wanted to represent her community by competing in the contest.

“It got me really nervous because I was wondering, ‘What if people don’t see me as worthy of this title?’ ” Bond said. “That process was hard because you’re overwhelme­d with so many emotions and you don’t know what to feel, but at the end of it, I really accepted that this is me, this is what I want to do and I know I would make myself proud.”

Held each year during Gathering of Nations, Miss Indian World is a pageant celebratin­g the culture, traditions and values of Indigenous women from different tribes across North America. The competitio­n was first held in 1984 and has since become a significan­t event for Indigenous communitie­s across the continent.

While it may seem similar to mainstream beauty pageants, the most notable difference is that Miss Indian World is a contest focused on celebratin­g traditiona­l Indigenous culture.

Instead of ball gowns and bathing suits, the women don the traditiona­l regalia of their communitie­s, and in lieu of baton twirling or jazz dances, their talent presentati­on is a traditiona­l skill like storytelli­ng, basket weaving, singing or bead work.

Once a winner is picked during the powwow each spring, the new title holder becomes an ambassador of Indigenous culture and traditions and represents her tribe and community at various events and gatherings throughout the year.

Adorned with a beaded crown and shawl, winners also receive prize money, travel stipends to attend powwows and other events, a banner with their title and name on it, a four-day ocean cruise and other gifts. More importantl­y, the competitio­n serves as a platform to raise awareness about the unique and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples and to promote understand­ing and respect for their traditions and way of life.

During this year’s competitio­n, Bond will showcase her Luiseño culture by not only wearing traditiona­l clothing, but by demonstrat­ing how to make a skirt from oak and willow tree bark tied with yucca rope for her talent presentati­on. The bark skirt is paired with a top made from abalone and northern cowrie shells, as well as a basket-style hat woven from Juncus and deer grass.

During the portion of the contest where the competitor­s dance their preferred or traditiona­l style to the same drum song, Bond will perform the bird dance, a timehonore­d practice for tribes throughout Southern California.

In preparatio­n for the contest, she has learned more about her tribe’s cultural heritage from her mother, Venessa Brownhuaut­e.

As a teenager, the former Pauma tribal council member represente­d both Red Nation Powwow and Sherman Indian High School as a powwow princess. Brownhuaut­e had encouraged her two daughters to vie for similar titles at local powwows, but neither had a particular interest in doing so.

Through Spanish colonizati­on and American settlement in the region, Brown-huaute said a lot of her community’s cultural traditions have been decimated over the past centuries. Through local revitaliza­tion efforts, many of the crafts, ceremonies, stories and language are making a resurgence, and she’s proud that Bond has stepped up to represent both the Pauma Band and other Southern California­n tribes.

“For us as the Luiseño people, it only seems that my generation and now my kids’ generation that they want to bring it back, they want people to see who we are,” Brown-huaute said. “When she goes out there, she’s not going to be wearing a powwow regalia, which is what the majority of the people wear.

“She’s going to be out there in our clothes to represent us to their style of music. It’s a little different, but it can be done.”

If selected as this year’s Miss Indian World winner, Bond hopes to raise greater awareness of mental health issues within the Indigenous community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that while the suicide rate in the United States was 33 percent higher in 2017 than it was in 1999, the largest increase was among American Indian and Alaska Native community members. Within the nation’s Indigenous population, the rate increased by 139 percent for women and by 71 percent for men.

After seeing how suicide impacts her reservatio­n and family, Bond wants to make sure kids within the wider Native American community know they are supported and there are mental health resources available.

“My community was hit really hard with the loss of a younger family member — it changed the feel of everyone’s emotions and it was immediatel­y set upon us to take care of our youth,” she said.

Bond also navigated through her own mental health experience following the death of her father on her 16th birthday. When she found out he had died, it was hard to process her feelings, which impacted her high school experience both in the classroom and in her personal life.

Through her advocacy for mental health resources, she hopes other Native youth can better access avenues for help.

“We — as a tribe and as a people — should be caring about our Native youth because they’re our future,” she said. “I want better programs for these kids to feel comfortabl­e talking to an adult about how they feel and what’s upsetting them because things like that are very serious.”

Indian Health Service recommends that anyone experienci­ng a crisis related to suicide, mental health or substance abuse reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or visiting 988lifelin­

In addition to her enrollment in the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians, Bond also has heritage from the San Carlos Apache on her father’s side of the family.

Aside from preparing for Miss Indian World over the past few months, Bond also likes to sew with her sister and to make jingle dress regalia to wear while dancing at powwows.

The Palomar College administra­tion of justice major plans to transfer to complete a four-year degree, possibly at Arizona State University. Upon graduation, Bond wants to become a bail enforcemen­t agent, more commonly referred to as a bounty hunter.

Through her educationa­l path and vying for Miss Indian World, she said she hopes to be a role model for youth in her community and across Indian Country.

“Even if I don’t win, I still want to stand right and be like, ‘This was a huge step for me and my people to finally show ourselves to the rest of the world and say this is what our tribe is, this is what we do, this is our culture,” Bond said.

 ?? CHARLIE NEUMAN FOR THE U-T ?? Pauma tribal member Cynthia Bond, 21, wears traditiona­l regalia she will also wear when she competes for Miss Indian World.
CHARLIE NEUMAN FOR THE U-T Pauma tribal member Cynthia Bond, 21, wears traditiona­l regalia she will also wear when she competes for Miss Indian World.

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