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Cocopah Nation brings back royalty



The Cocopah Indian Tribe is bringing back the Miss Cocopah Pageant and crowning a young woman on Friday.

 “The last one we had was in 1999,” said Gina Nierenahusen, Cocopah Community Center coordinator and pageant affiliate. “We're getting ready. It's a long time coming.”

Three contestants — Shelyne Twist, Jennifer Lujan and Xyntrice Barley — will be vying for a two-year reign. They will compete for the title Friday at the Cocopah Bend RV and Golf Resort, 6800 S. Strand Ave.

The tribal council decided to bring back the pageant after receiving numerous inquiries. “People wanted to see it back,” Nierenahusen said.

But don't confuse this with a beauty pageant, she noted. It's not about finding perfection but being a role model for tribal children.

“It's representative of all the Cocopah people and tribe. They all have flaws, but it's their time to get up there and represent their people and say, ‘We're all beautiful people, we are able to speak up and be role models.'”

Reviving the old tradition will put the spotlight on deserving young women.

“They are good representatives of the tribe. They have stayed in school, they have goals. They're active within our tradition, they practice it, they're active in events,” Nierenahusen explained.

Participating in the pageant can be a goal for children, she added.

The pageant is open to young women who are tribal members age 15-21 and who are in school. They must be good role models and be drug- and alcohol-free. They must also volunteer in the community and at tribal events.

The revived pageant started with six contestants, but three dropped out because of time constraints and other commitments.

The remaining contestants have helped the committee organize the pageant.

“We had complications, we talked about it, we dealt with it, we fixed it,” Nierenahusen noted. “It's taught them that as young women, they have a very, very important part in the Cocopah Tribe.”

The process of planning the pageant has helped the young women to grow, become more confident and take the lead.

“At the beginning, they were so unsure,” Nierenahusen said.

The contestants have been busy practicing for pageant night. “The girls are ecstatic and working well together.”

During the pageant, the contestants will introduce themselves, perform traditional dancing, showcase individual talent and answer a question.

They will be judged on their poise, traditional dress, talent and knowledge of the tribe's traditions and culture.

The traditional dress is a vital part of the pageant. “The dress is a story of themselves,” Nierenahusen said.

“Everything stands for something, from the beadwork to the color. It could be an heirloom or a color that has special meaning to them. The young women helped make their dresses and had a tribal elder make it.”

The tribe invites the entire community to attend the free event. “Here's your chance to learn more about the Cocopah Tribe,” Nierenahusen said.

Doors open at 5 p.m. and the show will start at 6 p.m. It will also include performances by Cocopah Bird Singers, Southwest Kwapa Bird Singers and Dancers and The Ah Keel Dancers from across the river. Deal Begay, a tribal member, will be master of ceremonies.

Special guests will be Miss Indian Arizona Jaymee Li Moore, Miss Quechan Nation Brittany Miguel and past royalty, including the last titleholder, Wendy Ortega, who will crown the new Miss Cocopah.

The newly crowned Miss Cocopah will represent tribe at tribal functions in the Yuma area, starting off with Native American Day on Sept. 28.

She will also represent the tribe at events, such as pow wows, in other parts of the state and nation.

She will reign for two years because “we want the girls to have time to actually enjoy being Miss Cocopah,” Nierenahusen said.


Seeking the crown:


Jennifer Lujan

Age: 19

School: Senior in high school at YPIC

Hello, I would like to introduce myself. I'm Jennifer Laura Lujan (Jenny), and I'm a contestant for Miss Cocopah Tribe Pageant. I'm the daughter of Tommy Jr. and Sharon Lujan, the granddaughter to Tommy S. and Laura Lujan and the late Rosalie Davis, and great-granddaughter of Brown Davis.

I'm currently finishing high school and working at the Cocopah Native Eatery. I enjoying cooking and was a first-place winner in the Cocopah Casino's Fry Bread Contest. I participate in many local events and had the opportunity to attend and graduate the Yuma area Police Explorers.

I have learned a lot from my involvement in the community and appreciate all the support they have been providing and looking forward to representing the Cocopah Nation.

I believe I can be a good role model to all the young Cocopah girls and for the entire tribe. I can keep good representation for our tribe in what we are all about and that is building our future.

Shelyne Twist

Age: 21

School: Arizona Western College

Hello, my name is Shelyne Twist and I'm 21 years old. I'm a graduate of Yuma High School and currently attending college. I plan to graduate with a degree in music education.

I would be tremendously honored to receive the title of Miss Cocopah Tribe. First and foremost, my main objective and I think that of the current and proceeding Miss Cocopah, is to represent our great nation with respect, honor and dignity.

The way of a constructive and productive society is respect. We have to respect ourselves fully. Who we are, what we were, and who we want to be. I know where I've been, who I was and what I've done and where I want to and be in this great world of ours.

I want to get the members of our tribe excited and proud to be what we are as a cultural society. Personally, I love being Native American, Cocopah at that, I have never wanted to be any other race nor of different ethnicity than what I was born into.

With the title of Miss Cocopah I believe the recipient should believe as such, always proud but never haughty.

I am excited to see what new doors will be opened of the crowned Miss Cocopah. All in all, I am positive that this title would benefit me for the better. It would open my eyes to wonderfully new understandings, experiences and life long lessons.

Xyntrice Barley

Age: 15

School: Aztec High School

My name is Xyntrice Barley. I am 15 years old and full-blooded Cocopah. I come from a very big family – two sisters and five brothers. My parents are Corinthian Barley and Collette Phillips.

I am a sophomore at Aztec High School and involved in student council. Like any other 15-year-old girl, I like hanging out with my friends, texting and using the internet. While growing up I enjoyed participating in out-of-town tribal competitions. I enjoyed meeting other different tribes.

My grandfather is Dale Phillips, Cocopah tribal vice chairman, and my grandmother is Carole Phillips.

My grandmother, Frances Evanston, is a well-known traditional dressmaker in the community.

My grandparents showed and taught me everything I needed to know about my traditional heritage: Cocopah language, bird and shaw dancing, my beliefs spiritually and culturally, and how to play peon.

I am proud, honored and very thankful to my parents and grandparents for having the patience to sit down with me and my sisters and brothers teaching us what needs to be known of our traditional ways. Traditional spiritual beliefs are very strongly believed in my families. So listening to my grandparents' and parents' stories, songs and prayers was worth every moment I spent with them growing up. I am honored and blessed.

I have always wanted to be Miss Cocopah and now that this opportunity has come, I am excited and I am going to be my best at it. I will be a positive role model for the youth in our community and represent my tribe with pride and honor.