COVID-19 restrictions caused the cancellation of the Miss Indian World Pageant the last two years, but this year, 25-year-old Makasa Looking Horse is ready to compete. She is heading to Albuquerque, N.M., in April seeking the crown with the support of her community and family behind her.
The Miss Indian World Pageant is the largest cultural title for young Indigenous women who are 18 to 25 years old. Miss Indian World is a Cultural Goodwill Ambassador to all cultures presenting and representing Native American, Indigenous and First Nations tribal culture. The Pageant is a week-long exchange of ideas, traditions and goodwill among the young women vying for the title. Miss Indian World is crowned at the Gathering of Nations Powwow.
Looking Horse was born on the Six Nations of the Grand River territory and is Mohawk and Lakota. She has completed rites of passage through both Lakota and Mohawk ceremonies known as Ishnati and Ohero:kon and has been a women’s Sundance leader for 11 years. Looking Horse is also a youth leader on Six Nations for water protection and security.
Having held many events, runs and marches for safe water and the current climate crisis, she said she does not shy away from tackling tough issues Indigenous people are facing on Six Nations and around the world. She also handed a cease and desist letter to the CEO of Nestle after securing it from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council. To her, the Miss Indian World crown would give her the platform to have more conversations about her research, talk more about climate change and continue making a difference for Indigenous people everywhere.
“When we are dealing with issues like the climate crisis, or extractions from Indigenous lands and treaties not being respected — we all face that no matter what community we come from. Colonialism happened to all of us. Standing Rock was a good example of that. Some horrible things happened, but all different kinds of people came together for that,” said Looking Horse, who is the firstborn and only daughter of Chief Arvol Looking Horse.
Looking Horse attended Kawenni:io Mohawk immersion elementary school, completed the Six Nations Traditional Medicine Practitioners course and is a student in Indigenous Studies at McMaster University. She is a youth leader of Ohneganos, a Global Water Futures research project and hosts a live-streamed podcast series called Ohneganos: Let’s Talk Water, which recently won the David Suzuki People’s Choice Award.
Among being invited to speak at United Nations events and other forums, Looking Horse has created short films published on www.oheganos.com and is currently producing a film on Indigenous youth and ecological grief. She has been featured in Chatelaine magazine, VICE news and multiple other media outlets advocating for Indigenous water rights.
The Two Row Times caught up with Looking Horse in an interview over Zoom this week to chat about her journey to the pageant:
TRT: What are you most excited about as you are getting ready to compete in Miss Indian World?
ML: I’m most excited to attend the Gathering of Nations and meet all of the amazing Miss Indian World contestants. It’s a very extensive and intense competition which I am very excited for. The pageant is five days long and you are in the care of the Miss Indian World committee basically from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Every day there is something different you are judged on. For example, one day you are judged on a personal interview, then the next there is a public speaking contest. One day involves dancing and another is showcasing your traditional talent. And then there is the crowning. You have to be ready and look the part always. Have your regalia ready. Be your best self. I’m most excited for the challenge of trying to be my best self every day of the pageant.
TRT: What do you do for work or school?
ML: My title is youth co-ordinator and I’ve worked for a water research program at McMaster University for the last three years. The program is Indigenous knowledge-led, which means whatever the community, chiefs and clan mothers want is how we approach our work and research.
TRT: How do you prepare yourself for pageant questions?
ML: I take interviews all the time for the work that I do, so I basically do that all day. From my water advocacy work fighting against Nestle, giving them a cease and desist order, to my show called “Ohneganos: Let’s Talk Water” which recently won a David Suzuki Award, and all the work I do in-between, I’ve been on a lot of panels and am confident in my ability to answer the competition’s tough interview questions. My life experiences have prepared me for these types of questions and have helped me build the skills I need to be Miss Indian World.
TRT: What would winning the title mean to you?
ML: You have a lot of power when you win Miss Indian World and you get into places that you wouldn’t normally be invited to. Miss Indian World is meant to be a role model and overturn the stereotypes that have been placed on Indigenous people forever. Winning the crown would mean that I would have more opportunities to spread awareness of the climate crisis in Canada, particularly in First Nations communities; including Six Nations. I don’t think people realize or understand that we have a huge water and global climate crisis on our hands and we need to continue advocating for clean water everywhere. Winning would allow me to continue my work on a larger platform to make sure our next generation has clean drinking water.
TRT: Do you have friends that have participated before? What did you learn from hearing about their experiences?
ML: I’ve had a lot of friends and family suggest I run for the crown over the years but it wasn’t the time for it. And as a respectful and loyal friend, I wanted to make sure other friends who were running had their time to shine. This is the last year I can compete because I am 25 years old. I will be finishing school soon and I know there is a high level of commitment to the pageant required after you are crowned for the entire year. I will finally have the time and capacity to fit that into my schedule.
TRT: How would you respond to someone who says pageantry is outdated?
ML: I don’t think pageantry is outdated because of the platforms that it offers to the winners and those who compete. One of my main concerns is the climate crisis and that is what we have to worry about right now. The climate crisis is real, here and present and the platform that comes with the pageant can’t be seen as outdated considering climate change is so relevant right now.
TRT: What talent will you be presenting?
ML: I am going to be demonstrating how to make a corn husk mat but first I’m going to talk about the Three Sisters. We use everything on the corn — the kernels, silk, husk — and one of the ways that we use the husk is to make mats. I’m going to demonstrate how to braid a husk and then sew it in a circle and show how the mats were used for bedding, pillows and cushions. They are said to have protective energy in them so we often hang them over our doors and around entrances to our homes.
TRT: Why do you want people to see this specific talent of yours?
ML: I feel like it’s a talent that stands out from among the ones you see more commonly demonstrated at the pageant. I considered something like making mush but it would be difficult to see the process on stage and I think your talent should be easy for people to see you perform.
TRT: What portion of the pageant are you most excited about?
ML: I’m most excited for the crowning. And most nervous about the talent portion because it has to be so precise. You need to be great with your words and not stutter, making sure everything goes smooth. More things can go wrong in the talent portion. I’m most excited for the crowning because by that time most of the contestants will be close to one another. We will be happy for one another whether we win or lose because we’ll have built that relationship over the last five or six days.
TRT: In what ways can the community help you? Do you need to raise funds?
ML: I have a GoFundMe set up if anyone is interested in supporting me or sponsoring me. With a sponsorship, I would thank them in interviews after the pageant and on my show. Their company name would then be thanked publicly and broadcast across my platforms — from interviews to my show and thank you speech. The GoFundMe page explains everything about the pageant and what I am currently up to in detail.
Follow Makasa’s journey to Miss Indian World on her socials: