By Dan Ninham
“Háu Mitákuyapi ye!Iyúškiƞyan wačhíyake ye! Wašíču iá “Rachel” emákiyapi ye. Dakhóta čhažé bduhé šni. Oyate mithawa kiƞ Húŋkpapȟa ewíčhakiyapi ye. Míš, Mní Dúzahan héčhiya taƞháƞ wahí ye. Míš Imnízaska otuƞwe ed wathi ye.”
“Hello, my relatives. I greet you with a happy heart!” said Rachel Evangelisto, a member of the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux Tribe. I am a 25-year-old graduate from the University of Minnesota Morris with a BA in Political Science and an emphasis in Law.”
“I am truly humbled and honored to be the 86th and first-ever Native American Miss Minnesota,” said Evangelisto. “I started competing within the Miss America Organization at the age of 13 and have gained over $26,000 in scholarships throughout my time competing.”
Evangelisto won the Miss Minnesota title in June, making history as the first Indigenous woman to wear the crown.
Evangelisto lives in Minneapolis, MN, and works under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) as an ICWA Guardian ad litem. “As a Guardian, I look out for the best interest of Native American youth involved in child protection and foster care cases. I was recently accepted into law school to study Native American Law through the Native American Law & Sovereignty Institute at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.”
The journey is vast for a Miss America contestant including major pageant accomplishments.
“So many think of Miss America as a ‘pageant’ when in reality, it’s a national scholarship competition that promotes community, confidence, and choice. You can find out more about my journey at rachelevangelisto.com, on Instagram @MissAmericaMN, or TikTok, @MahLakhota,” added Evangelisto.
The Miss America organization addresses three areas on their website, notably confidence, community, and choice. Along with those, being an indigenous pageant contestant also includes indigenous thought and practice in how core values define who the contestant is and where she is going in each of these areas.
“Throughout my year, I will use my platform to elevate contemporary Indigenous voices, educate our schools through my school program, and engage our communities in ‘Celebrating Culture & Driving Diversity’ with me,” added Evangelisto.
Mentors guide beauty pageant contestants to maximize their journey to the higher echelons of national and eventually international competition.
“I’m genuinely grateful to have such a large community that has supported my journey to becoming Miss Minnesota,” said Evangelisto. “My greatest mentors are … who have pushed me to grow, supported me in rising up to the challenges that come with this job, and are there to catch me when I make mistakes. So many people see the one night of crowning and forget that 364 other days go into being Miss Minnesota.”
“I’m grateful to Autumn Simunek Conrad for the continual support of this journey of mine,” said Evangelisto. “She keeps me humble, remind me to stay rooted in my culture, and support me to be the best titleholder I can be.”
Autumn Simunek Conrad is the owner and founder of Coach by Autumn LLC. “I have known Rachel for many years and my admiration for her has only grown over time,” Simunek Conrad told Indian Country Today.
“Rachel is one of the most dedicated, forward thinking, and thoughtful women I have ever met.
“When she reached out to me to help her prepare for Miss Minnesota I was honored to take this journey with her in any way I could be of help. We worked weekly for months discussing current events, social and political opinions, and how she could be serve her community,” said Simunek Conrad.
Simunek Conrad continued to talk about the preparation phase. She said, “My hope as her mentor is that I can help her, even in the most challenging moments, to see her own value and bring her passion and confidence to every aspect of her life.
Miss America contestants have current and future plans as they prepare for the Miss America 2022 pageant.
“The possibilities are limitless right now,” said Evangelisto. “Miss America will be held at the Mohegan Sun (venue) on the Mohegan Reservation in December 2022. I am thrilled to compete for Miss America on tribal land and want to say pilamayayapiye, thank you to the Mohegan Tribe for hosting us this year.”
“Some of my biggest goals right now: Advocate of the Indian Child Welfare Act on Capitol Hill in October as ICWA is being challenged in front of the Supreme Court, attend every wacipi (powwow) that I can, and educate all Minnesotan’s about Indigenous Rights and Sovereignty,” added Evangelisto.
The Miss America pageant will be held December 16th at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. The 51 contestants begin their competition week on December 12 with the first evening of preliminary competition followed by round two of preliminary competition on December 13.