After Ke Aloha May Cody Alo was crowned "Miss Indian World" last month, her father offered some advice:
"You are not just representing your family. You are not just representing your culture. You are also representing the Church," Lefty Alo told the Church member after she was awarded the prestigious cultural pageant title.
Now Sister Alo, who received the award at the Gathering of Nations pow wow April 28 in Albuquerque, N.M., will keep that in mind while she serves as a cultural ambassador during the coming year. Her role as Miss Indian World, she said, will be to bridge cultural gaps between Indian and non-Indian people worldwide. She will also share the cultural values she learned from her family her mother is White Mountain Apache and her father is Samoan and native Hawaiian as well as the values she learned at Church.
Each year the pageant attracts contestants from all over the United States and Canada who not only represent their tribes and tribal nations, but also their traditions. Contestants are judged in several categories including talent, public speaking, interviews and traditional dance. Sister Alo was recognized during the event with the best interview and the best public speaking awards.
Sister Alo spent her early years on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona before moving with her family to Hawaii. There she gained an appreciation for the Hawaiian culture, as well as an "understanding of the beauty that lies in diversity."
Later she attended BYU where she performed with Living Legends, formerly known as the Lamanite Generation. It was with this group that she was first able to travel around the world, singing, dancing, speaking and representing indigenous peoples, she said.
After serving a mission to France and graduating from BYU in August 2000 with a degree in international relations, Sister Alo returned to the Indian reservation where her parents live and her father serves as branch president for the weekend and never left.
During her teen years she had grown to appreciate the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands. Now, amid Arizona's pine trees, flowers and wildlife, she learned that every place has its own kind of beauty.
At first she had a hard time; she did not immediately fit into reservation life. People questioned her motives for settling on the reservation. "Why would you come here?" some asked. "You are educated. You are experienced."
Sister Alo explained she did not return to the reservation because of a lack of opportunity elsewhere. "It was because I wanted to be here," she said. "I felt very drawn here. . . . I wanted to know where my roots came from. I wanted to know about my family."
Today she works for the White Mountain Apache Tribe legal department and is active in the McNary Branch, Pinetop-Lakeside Arizona Stake. In the future she wants to attend graduate school.
However, first she will continue to embrace her Indian roots as she represents the world's indigenous cultures. Next month she will travel to Bolivia. During her reign she will also attend the UNITY conference in Michigan, the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah and the Women's Indigenous Conference in Hawaii.
Frequently, she thinks of the things she knows as a Church member; the values she learned at Church seem to mesh with the things she wants to embrace in both the Hawaiian and Apache cultures. "As I have grown older I have come to appreciate my culture and heritage and how it ties with the Church," she said. She loves to read the Book of Mormon and learn of the promises God has for her people.
In her role as Miss Indian World, Sister Alo hopes to be able to address important issues affecting minority populations, such as high school drop-out rates and chemical and substance abuse. She also hopes to address the way society looks at motherhood and womanhood.
"I feel like this is an opportunity to be a voice to my people and to share with my people not just my views and values . . . but also to be able to share with them something that is nearer and dearer to my heart," she said. "I want to be able to share the gospel through my example."
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