The first Miss Navajo, Dr. Beulah Melvin Allen, was crowned in 1952. Back then, the pageant winner was selected by attendants at the Navajo Nation Fair, an annual event usually held in September. The contestant that received the loudest applause won.
Over the past five decades, the pageant has endured its share of changes as the title of Miss Navajo has grown in prestige and publicity. During the 1950s and 1960s, there were often two winners—one woman serving as the “modern Miss Navajo” and the other as the “traditional Miss Navajo.” Past competition categories included “appearance,” in which contestants were judged on assets including apparel neatness, hairstyle, beauty and posture.
Today, the Navajo reservation numbers about 250,000 people, the largest tribe in the United States, and the pageant has expanded to become a five-day competition with qualifications such as fluency in both Navajo and English languages and knowledge of Navajo culture and tradition. As Sunny Dooley, Miss Navajo Nation 1982–83 says, “Once you’re Miss Navajo, you’re always Miss Navajo.”