Brigham Young University, Miss Indian BYU, Lamanite identities


The theme of Brigham Young University's 1972 Indian week, an annual event set apart for Native guest speakers, Lamanite Generation performances, and the Miss Indian BYU pageant, was "New IndianNew Commitments." This might have well been the theme of Mormonism's oft-ambivalent relationship with Native Americans. The "new Indian" that the Mormon leadership celebrated was "modernized," "civilized," and, of course, Mormonized. The Miss Indian BYU pageant provides a compelling site in which to investigate the tension between new and old, the contemporary and the traditional. Although Miss Indian BYU existed within an oppressive neocolonial framework, it is reductive to see the women involved as merely passively inscribed upon by these power structures. Rather, Miss Indian BYU functioned as an ambivalent cultural script that allowed participants to exist safely within a dominant cultural framework (i.e. Mormonism), while at the same time celebrating their specific cultural heritages and processing their history of colonization. Through their self-presentation, the talents they performed, and the ways in which the winners represented both their religion and their indigenous communities, Miss Indian BYU contestants reworked the concept of "Lamanite identity" to negotiate the wider cultural issue of what it meant to be an indigenous American in the twentieth century.