Miss Salt River 1975-76 Emily Martinez (King), left, congratulates Gracie Welsh, newly crowned Miss Indian Arizona from the Colorado River Indian Reservation.

The Significance of the Miss Salt River and Jr. Miss Salt River Pageant

By June M. Shorthair
Au-Authm Action News

As you are reading this, the crowning of a new Miss Salt River and Jr. Miss Salt River has just taken place on June 12 and 13 at the Talking Stick Resort. This is the season to coronate new “ambassadors” for the Community and have two young ladies begin their reigns to represent the people throughout the next 12 months at various events and functions.

Tribal nations across Arizona, the United States and throughout North America designate or select young ladies to be their official ambassadors for their communities, and the SRPMIC does the same. The SRPMIC strives to promote young women through culture, traditions, values and education so that Miss Salt River is a young lady who embodies these qualities.

The Salt River royalty selection is not just a pageant; it is an opportunity for young women to develop leadership skills and gain exposure to the unlimited possibilities that are bound to their Native culture.

The Miss Salt River Pageant has been officially sanctioned and supported by the Community since 1988. The Miss Salt River pageant is in its 27th year, while the Jr. Miss Salt River title is beginning its 23rd year. The titleholders, as the goodwill ambassadors of the tribes and Community they represent, will need to invest their personal and some family time during their reign.

Many young women have been graced with the title of Miss Salt River. The following is a glance at three of these earlier title-holders.
A glance at three former Miss Salt Rivers

Sharilyn Belone, Miss Salt River 1967-68
Belone was selected as Miss Salt River for 1967-68. Her father, the late Jasper James, was a tribal member from the SRPMIC, and her mother is a part of the Breckenridge family from district 6 of the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC). She is the last of her siblings who are still living today. Belone is 68 and with her husband has four boys, three of them working for the SRPMIC.

Belone attended Salt River Day School and eventually the Mesa schools. In her early years, her family traveled back and forth between SRPMIC and the GRIC. They would stay with her grandmother in district 6, or they would spend time in Sacaton with other relatives.

Belone is a graduate of Westwood High School. She stated, “I was about 18 years of age when I became Miss Salt River. I don’t really remember how I got picked, how I was chosen, or specifically why they came to me. I just remember certain people in the Community coming and asking me if I would do it; I got brave and said OK!”

She continued, “I participated and represented the Community in different things. I was able to go to Durango, Colorado, and we participated in a parade there. We traveled with one of the SRPMIC Council representatives at the time, Vernon Smith. We had to fly, and this was the first time I ever flew. I was very scared. I remember Council member Smith trying to help me to not be scared, and I remember he showed me ‘this bag’ in case I got sick!”

During her reign, Belone said, she attended only a few events because it was hard since neither the tribe nor the people had much wealth at the time. She shared, “A lady from the Woods family, Claudine Woods, helped me. She started a program where a lot of the girls could come together to make clothes. I remember seeing all these bolts and bolts of material, and she had sewing machines that we could use. Even our mothers or whoever was taking care of us could come in and help us; they learned to sew as well. We made clothes for school.”

When Belone became Miss Salt River, she made her own dress, with a contemporary flair, using the materials that were provided to the young ladies. Belone added, “My chaperone was Mrs. Christine Owens, mother of [Huhugam Ki] museum manager Gary Owens. She showed me how to do things and how to act proper, like a lady. She took us to take classes, [like a finishing school], which taught us how to use all the silverware in a formal setting, how to sit properly and walk like a lady.”

During her reign, Belone was able to participate in the Miss Indian Arizona pageant when it was held at the fairgrounds during the Arizona State Fair.

She attended Haskell Indian Junior College for about half a year. Belone stated, “I came home and never went back to finish. I had never been away from home. I came home and just started working. I have worked all my life. I worked at the Salt River Day School for a number of years, and when the program ended, I moved to work at Phoenix Indian School for many more years. I just completed 25 years of employment at SRPMIC, where I am still employed.”

What would Belone say to young women today who are considering running for Miss Salt River? She offered, “I would remind them to be themselves. To watch how they are acting and conducting themselves. To remind them they are representing their people and that they have to do it in the right way and right manner. To be respectful to the people, especially the elders. Don’t be lazy; you need to get out there and do things and to help with whatever needs to be done.”

Emily King, Miss Salt River 1975-76

When King was a senior at Mesa High, she was selected the 1975-76 Miss Salt River. She is from the Community of Lehi. Her family had a small farm that included cows, pigs, goats, chickens horses and where they farmed corn, melons, carrots and other items depending on the season. Her parents Marjorie Belle Valenzuela and George M. Martinez died when she and her brother Michael Somerton were very young. She grew up with strong ties to the Lehi Community; however, with her parents passing, moved to Salt River to live with her uncle and aunt, Gordon and Betsy Wood who had five children. She recognized them as her father and mother.

King had two very close friends in school who were her relatives from the Community. They used to challenge each other all the time do different things. During this time, the Community began the process to search for a new Miss Salt River.

“I [ran for Miss Salt River] on a dare between two of my friends,” King said. In retrospect, her reason for running for Miss Salt River had to do with the fact that King always likes to face and overcome challenges that come her way. “I dare you; no, I dare you,” King said was the mantra between the three girls. In the end, they all decided to run for Miss Salt River.

At that time, there was no actual pageant. The selection process was mainly based on an extensive interview with all the candidates conducted by a committee.

King said, “We were asked to attend a meeting in the conference room at the old tribal facilities, which I believe were like an old military building. The candidates included myself and my two friends, as well as others that I don’t remember; I was so nervous! You had to go through a separate door and sit in a room to face a group of people and answer their questions. It was like a whirlwind!”

She added, “They called my house to let my family know I was selected. They had a dinner for us. My family met the selection committee and I was introduced to my chaperone, [the late] Vivian Rhodes. It was basically just her and I who attend events; she would let me know if she received inquiries. Back then, the family had to cover all the costs; there wasn’t a committee to help.”

Her family was able to come up with money to attend a few pageants out of state, like the NCAI pageant in Utah. King found out later that it was a struggle for them to support her reign; her family sold popovers at the race track and her mother did without some things so King could have a little bit of money to spend during her reign.

King’s high school put a picture of her in the yearbook. “It was a real honor that they did this; the teachers that I knew became aware of the title I was given; I never expected them to do this for me.”

King emphasized, “Back then events I attended were not ‘dress up, get your picture taken’ type of events. It was more of helping to feed, making bread; it wasn’t really glamorous. It was more like participating on behalf of the Community. The year I was Miss Salt River I had to participate in a run [foot race] that went from McDowell Road, north on Alma School Road to the end of the reservation boundaries. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the race, but I had to take part in it.”

Since the Miss Indian Arizona pageant was held in Salt River during this time, King was able to participate. She added, “I have fond memories of people I met, like former Tohono O’odham representative Nellie Lopez and the late Gracie Welch, Miss Colorado River Indian Tribes from Parker, Arizona. Just knowing these strong women as my role models was amazing. They were examples of how talents can take you places and you can build your life upon them. These ladies were great examples—this is what I got most out of participating as Miss Salt River. I can still remember the words these ladies said to me to give me encouragement and confidence.”

Martha Ludlow Martinez, Miss Salt River 2013-14 and Miss Indian Arizona First Attendant 2014-15

Martha Ludlow Martinez was chosen as Miss Salt River 2013-14. She is currently Miss Indian Arizona First Attendant. She ran for Miss Salt River four times and was able to become first attendant and second attendant twice, in certain years. Martinez was also previously selected as Miss Indian Arizona First Attendant in 2011-12. Martinez noted that running for Miss Salt River and for Miss Indian Arizona is not just competing in a pageant; there is a whole lot more to it.

She stated, “Through my reign, I believe people often did not understand what the reign really entails. We just don’t stand there and look pretty. There is a lot of work that goes into it, like scheduling and planning of activities, and all the work that must be completed just to attend an event.”

Martinez first ran for Miss Salt River in 2008, when she was 18 and attending Westwood High School. “My friend Marissa Johnson was Jr. Miss Salt River at the time; [she was] speaking and going out to try to recruit others for the upcoming pageant. My mother (Kathy Ludlow) heard her speak and pushed me to try out. I was really hesitant and wasn’t sure if I really wanted to do it. I was very shy and a huge tomboy.”

At the time, Martinez did not understand what the titles really meant. “I was selected second attendant, [but] I really didn’t know what it meant to be an attendant and be on the royalty court.” She added, “I was exposed to my culture and [the Piipaash culture] more. I was able to [delve] a lot deeper [into] and understand more about my culture and the Piipaash.”

In her first experience running for a title, she performed for her traditional talent “What Kind Of Flower,” and for her modern talent she played a piece on the trombone, as she was a musician and played in school.

“Running for Miss Salt River and being exposed to the so many [enriching] experiences was so different than the life I was living at the time. As I grew up, there were a lot things going on around me. I was exposed to gang activity, drugs and alcohol, so I really tried to just [focus] on school and home,” Martinez expressed.

“During my first experience, it was the first time I had really traveled outside of the Community. I traveled with my family to different places, but then I was able to travel with other royalty, learn about traditional dress, and I worked with the royal committee,” commented Martinez. “They really helped me find positive avenues and events that I could attend, which helped me grow.”

When asked why she ran for multiple titles, Martinez said, “Each time was a new experience. No year was ever the same. The influence in the committee changed; the personalities of the girls in the pageant [changed]. The second time I was pushed by the committee to try again because they said I did really well and should try again. The third time I ran, I felt ‘Why not?’ I can do this. During this time, Miss Salt River could not run for Miss Indian Arizona, so the Community asked if I would run.”

Martinez elaborated that the experience running for Miss Indian Arizona and becoming first attendant was huge. It was an honor to be able to represent the 22 Indian tribes in Arizona.

She reflected, “The first three times I ran for Miss Salt River it didn’t really bother me; I felt it just wasn’t my time. I learned a lot from the previous Miss Salt Rivers; they were wonderful ladies. Becoming first attendant to Miss Indian Arizona really gave me more determination to be a good representative for the Community. During this year I learned that my Ba:b (grandfather) sister, Fern Ludlow, was a previous Miss Salt River. He talked to me and said I reminded him of her. When my Ba:b died, it made me more determined, even though it had been a little discouraging the past times I ran; but this is the reason why I ran one more time for Miss Salt River.”

To upcoming candidates for Salt River royalty, Martinez offered this: “Give it a try! Coming from the background I had, and the personality I had prior to my first experience, and then being on the court and running for Miss Salt River, it gave me the opportunity to really see what I was capable of doing. It is a wonderful experience. You have a platform. You may not consider yourself a ‘pageant girl,’ but, looking back at myself, people would have never thought I would run for anything like Miss Salt River. I am fortunate that I have gone farther than what people expected.”

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