The Winter Buffalo Dance may have been the key to Kaylina Abeyta’s victory.  Kaylina Abeyta, a member of the Ohkay Owingeh tribe, was crowned Miss Highlands University Native American Queen during the third annual Native American Pageant at Sala de Madrid last week.  She replaces outgoing Queen Courtney Hudson.  Abeyta wowed the audience with the Winter Buffalo Dance and said she’s been dancing since she was a little girl.

“It’s an honor to dance the Winter Buffalo at our village, and we dance it for our feast on June 24,” Abeyta said.

Abeyta is a junior majoring in early childhood multicultural education.  She is the daughter of Johnny and Darlene Abeyta and a graduate of Santa Fe Indian School.Hudson, who comes to Las Vegas from To’hajiilee, said her year as queen has been filled with important work.

“The Native American queen and court serve not only as goodwill ambassadors representing the student body around the state, but spend time during the legislative session lobbying for more funding for our school,” Hudson said.  “We raise awareness about educational opportunities available to the younger generation and how important it is that we preserve our culture.  This has been such a fantastic year.  I’ve been able to build on my leadership skills, and I’m not as shy as I used to be.  It was a growing experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Hudson said the Native American population at Highlands is small but growing, and it’s a great opportunity to show the rich history of the Native American culture.  She said as more of such students attend the university, more Native American events would be held around campus with a pow-wow planned for April, with Native Americans from across the country planning to take part.

“We haven’t had a pow-wow in Las Vegas in over a decade and we are really working hard to bring that back.  Students come here from all over the United States and the world, and it’s great to share the Native American experience and learn about theirs.  As you experience different cultures and learn new things, you take all that on your journey through life,” Hudson said.

Hudson said another goal of the Native American club is to keep students in school.

“Our main goal is retention for Native American students, and we really want to see them succeed — impacting one life can lead to a chain reaction that helps our community,” Hudson said.

The program featured performances by the Sunrise Dance Group from Santa Clara Pueblo, and contestants Jessica Livingston, Faith Toledo, Latanya Burbank and Kaylina Abeyta shared their culture in story, dance, song and history.

Judge and student body president Nicole Para-Perez said, “This show is amazing.  It’s my first time here, and I’m absolutely blown away by the talent and just respect for their culture.  I am so excited that they are allowing us to be part of their culture tonight.  Anything the Native American Club puts on, it’s always a huge show, each time they do something it gets bigger and bigger.”

Pageant organizers Gallup native Teresa Billy, Rochelle Yazzie from To’hajiilee said the pageant began with the idea of bringing the Native American culture to the campus.

“The idea has blossomed into the beautiful show we saw tonight, and we are hoping and praying that it will grow even bigger,” Billy said.

Yazzie noted that all the contestants were prepared for a tough competition and all performed brilliantly.

“I was excited, and I was nervous, and I’m just so happy tonight — everything was well planned and it all came together,” Yazzie said.

Pageant committee members Navajo resident Violet Woody and Brittany White from Pine Hill worked hard for months rounding up contestants and performers, and putting stage props together.  They also collected donations for scholarship money granted to the winner and pottery from Pueblo Picuris and Santa Clara Pueblo as gifts for the judges.


~ By Don Pace. © 2008 Las Vegas Optic.  Reprinted with permission.