"They grow as speakers, as leaders”: A case study of experiential leadership in the Miss World Eskimo–Indian Olympics pageant

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This research explores the adaptation of traditionally objectified women's spaces into an arena for community leadership. Indigenous pageants offer a place for women to become spokespersons on social justice issues without the sexual objectification associated with beauty pageants. Within Native nations, we see examples of youth creating a better life for their community through Indigenous pageants. There is a growing literature among Indigenous studies scholars on community-based women's leadership. Wilma Mankiller offers a theory on Indigenous women's leadership that centers the community at the heart of decision making. The winners of the Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) all share this common feature; they want to better their communities, and they view the pageant as an opportunity to do so. The women who undertake the weeklong experience participate in community service events in the Fairbanks region. These leaders are immersed in experiential learning, an invaluable opportunity that cannot be replicated through theoretical knowledge. The women are presented with situations in which they share cultural experiences and give advice cross-culturally and cross-generationally. Gaining the opportunity to be a voice for their peoples, the women must quickly consolidate their knowledge and sharpen their communication skills as they are repeatedly questioned about Native Alaskan societies. Using Wilma Mankiller's ideas on community-centered leadership, this article explores the case study of community service events featured in the Miss WEIO contest to illustrate that Native Alaskan pageants can provide youth with an invaluable opportunity for experiential leadership that is intrinsically linked to promoting community well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-235
Number of pages31
JournalAmerican Indian Quarterly
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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