Miss Salt River Sistine Lewis and Jr. Miss Salt River Robin Ramirez are taking a look back at their year representing the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The ladies recall the day they were crowned, talk about their experiences with the Miss Salt River and Jr. Miss Salt River courts, explain what they plan to do after their reigns are over, and offer advice for up-and-coming pageant participants.
Jr. Miss Salt River
Jr. Miss Salt River Robin Ramirez recalled her happiness when she was crowned Jr. Miss Salt River last June.
“I remember I started crying tears of joy,” said Ramirez.
She said she wanted to try competing in the pageant to help other youth get inspired to learn their culture.
“I noticed that the youth spend all their time online or hanging out in the city, not really doing cultural things anymore,” said Ramirez. “I grew up learning my culture because of my grandmother (Annette Vest). I am upset that the youth are not paying attention to the stories, not learning the language.”
Ramirez participates in the Bird Singing and Dancing by the River group, where she learns O’odham and Piipaash dances. She welcomes every young person to come out and learn.
Throughout her time as Jr. Miss Salt River, she learned how many official tribes there are compared to non-recognized tribes and how spread out and diverse Indigenous cultures are, as well as how similar they are.
She said her favorite event was the San Carlos Apache Tribe pageant. She was told that the Salt River royalty rarely attend this specific pageant because the date usually falls on the same date as some of the Community’s major events, but this year they were able to attend.
From her experience, Ramirez said she will take away the importance of communicating more with youth and being more confident and able to speak at events. She hopes that those who run for this year’s pageant have fun. “Just keep your head up; if you are having a hard time, let the committee know and they will help you,” she explained.
Ramirez plans to attend boarding school next year and hopes to participate in the Miss Salt River Pageant when she returns.
“I would like to thank my grandmother. She raised me since I was a baby and taught me everything about my culture. She always made my traditional dresses for me and always explained things to me,” said Ramirez. “My grandpa (Lynnwood Vest) also, he has been there every time I needed help. He has been teaching me more about how to fix things myself instead of having to rely on others. Lastly, Martha Martinez, she got me into thinking about running for the pageant, and I am grateful I did.”
Miss Salt River
Sistine Lewis was no stranger to the pageant scene; she was crowned Jr. Miss Salt River for 2017-2018. When she competed in the Miss Salt River pageant last June, she didn’t think she was going to win because she felt like she didn’t do well on the impromptu question. Ultimately, she was crowned the 2021-2022 Miss Salt River.
She said she has learned and experienced a lot over the past year. “I was able to experience both a virtual and regular pageant,” said Lewis. “Personally, I prefer the regular pageant. The virtual pageant was intimidating; although there were just a couple of people, it was just quiet and there were no [crowd] reactions or anything, so I couldn’t tell if I was doing well or not.”
Lewis enjoyed her time as Miss Salt River and participated in a number of service projects and events.
“I really enjoyed doing the Giving Tuesday project. I went to Salt River Elementary School and gave out jackets,” said Lewis. “I didn’t think [the kids] would like the gift because it was a jacket, but when I told them they were getting jackets they were excited. This one boy was very excited and told me that he was going to the movies with his dad and he was going to wear the jacket. It was good to see them excited.”
Most of the Community events were drive-thru events due to the pandemic.
“It was really cool because when you’re in line getting the stuff, you don’t really get to see what goes on behind the scenes … and how chaotic it is. Community Relations does a lot for our people during these events,” said Lewis.
She said her favorite trip was her most recent one, to the Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Miss Salt River Court went to support former Miss Salt River 2019-2020 Manderee Jose, who competed in the Miss Indian World Pageant.
“We walked around, explored the different vendors and watched some dances,” said Lewis. “It was very crowded; we couldn’t get in to watch the crowning, so we just watched it on the big screen outside with the Tohono O’odham Rodeo Queen.
Lewis encourages all young ladies who are eligible to compete for Miss or Jr. Miss Salt River.
“If it is something you want to do, take the chance. Just know that the Community and your family are always there to support you,” said Lewis. “I think it’s more than a pageant—it’s more like a growing experience. It helps you break out of your shell and helps your character development.”
Lewis would like to thank her family and the Miss Salt River Pageant Committee. “They were a big help for me throughout the whole experience,” she explained.
Before their reigns end, Lewis and Ramirez will be doing their platform projects this month. Lewis will hold a social gathering, Cu:dk with Miss Salt River 2021-2022, at the SRPMIC’s River Campground on Saturday, May 21, from 6 p.m. to midnight. This event is designed to help get youth involved with the O’odham culture.
“I will also be teaching the youth in the Youth Services programs how to do the swing dance and make mock prayer sticks so they can decorate them and record the dance and process,” said Lewis.
Ramirez will host her platform project at the Boys and Girls Club at the WOLF. She will be teaching the youth how to paint gourd dolls on Wednesday, May 18.
This year, the Jr. Miss and Miss Salt River Pageant will be held virtually, this year participants will be presenting their essays to the theme “Adapting to Change and Preserving O’odham and Piipaash Traditions”. Although, the pageant is closed to the public, both pageants will be full pageants with judges and tabulators present, farewell remarks from outgoing Miss and Jr. Miss Salt River and the crowing of the new 2022-2023 Miss and Jr. Miss Salt River. The Jr. Miss Salt River pageant will be on Friday, June 10 at 5 p.m. and the Miss Salt River Pageant will be held on Saturday, June 11 at 2 p.m.
For more information on the pageants and committee, visit their social media pages on Instagram at www.instagram.com/misssaltrivercommittee/ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/misssaltrivercommittee.