‘I am Tlingit’: Miss Alaska brings Tlingit culture to national stage

• Alyssa London wows in Tlingit robe, speaks Tlingit on national TV • London reflects on Miss USA competition, top-10 finish

Forty-eight hours after she wore a Tlingit-inspired robe and a flowing red evening gown on national television, Alyssa London wore a gray zip-up hoodie and black leggings, sitting on a gravelly hill near the Mendenhall Glacier.

 

London, the first person of Tlingit descent to be crowned Miss Alaska USA, finished in the top 10 at the Miss USA competition last Sunday and was in Juneau two days later on her way back to her home in Anchorage. She and her boyfriend Chris Bryant — a former University of Alaska Anchorage basketball player who also trained London for the competition — grabbed blueberries, strawberries and other light snacks from Fred Meyer and found a spot near the pavilion at Mendenhall Glacier for a quick picnic during their four-hour layover.

By any measurement, her trip to Las Vegas for the competition went well. She finished in the top 10, the first time Miss Alaska has finished that high in the Miss USA competition since 1990. Still, after working toward this for a decade, she was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that the competition is over and she’ll never be back there again.

“You kind of feel this sadness or loss,” London said. “You’re trying to feel grateful that you had this experience, and I’m grateful that I made top 10, because at least I got to compete on national television, but you still kind of feel like your dream escaped you. You don’t get another chance at it.”

A sparkling reveal

London was already on the verge of accepting defeat.

Nine contestants had been called for the top 10 in the Miss USA competition, and she was still waiting. It looked as if the streak of no Miss Alaska in the top 10 was going to continue.

“You had all this anticipation,” London remembered. “You’re kind of already trying to process in your mind, ‘Oh, maybe I didn’t get in.’”

Those thoughts didn’t last long. When Miss USA host Terrence J called “Alaska,” the camera quickly panned to London, whose hands darted to her face in surprise. As she walked to the front of the stage, she felt like she was almost running with excitement.

Just before the competition, she had spoken with someone from the National Congress of the American Indian, who had mentioned to London that if possible, she should mention the fact that there are 229 unique tribes in Alaska. Fortuitously, Terrence J asked her to tell the audience something they might not know about Alaska, and London smiled broadly as she talked about the 229 unique tribes in the state, and also spoke in Tlingit.

“Tlingit áyá xát,” she said, translating, “I am from the Tlingit tribe.”

[Watch the moment here: Fastfoward to minute 7:55]

She also teased the robe, designed by renowned Tlingit artist Preston Singletary, that she was about to wear during the evening gown competition, one that bore her clan’s killerwhale crest. With her being the final contestant named to the top 10, London was also the last contestant to walk the stage in her evening gown. She stood still, her Tlingit robe draped around her shoulders and concealing her gown, while the other nine contestants walked up the stage at the Mandalay Bay Resort.

When it was finally her turn to walk, London took about a dozen steps forward before opening the robe up and revealing a red gown underneath, sparkling with more than 5,000 hand-applied Swarovski crystals.

Sitting next to the stage, the gown’s designer Joey Galon captured the moment and posted it to Instagram. The crowd, which also included six of her family members, a couple friends and Bryant, cheering how she unveiled her gown.

“It felt really amazing to do that,” London said, “and it was a success, because a lot of the other contestants, when you put yourself out there in the limelight, especially in pageantry, I think, you can get differences in opinions about your dress, but because I showed confidence in doing something that was different, I got a lot of positive feedback and it seemed like it inspired a lot of people.”

The moment served as a bookend of sorts. In her first pageant at age 17, London sang the Eagle-Raven Love Song for the talent portion. Now, 10 years later, in her biggest and final pageant, she was once again honoring her Native heritage at a vital point in the competition.

Bringing Alaska Native culture to the national stage

As she sat in view of one of Southeast Alaska’s most recognizable landmarks on a sunny Tuesday in Juneau, London said she hoped to commit herself to the next phase of her life with the same vigor she employed in reaching Miss USA. The fact that a decade-long pursuit came to an end just 48 hours earlier still felt surreal to her.

Even without being crowned Miss USA (an honor that went to Miss District of Columbia), London saw what a difference her appearance in the pageant made. Her phone was constantly buzzing with notifications and messages from people throughout Alaska who wished her luck and told her how much her success served as an example for them or their daughters. She expressed gratitude for organizations throughout the state, including the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, that held a watch party in Juneau for Miss USA, and she wants to make sure she gives back.

London only has three months left of being Miss Alaska USA, as the next one will be named in September due to new rules. She hopes to spend her time continuing to speak to groups, from children at summer camps to Alaska Native groups. After working tirelessly to get into such good shape for the competition, London may also look to put together a fitness competition or do some fitness modeling.

More than anything, she wants to continue to use her platform to promote Alaska Native culture. She founded Culture Story in 2014, a company that produces Native artwork and looks to promote the Native cultures of Southeast Alaska.

Her robe and brief appearance on the FOX broadcast got her off to a good start, and she hopes it’s only the beginning.

“I’m really grateful that I got the opportunity,” London said, “because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to debut that gown on national television or speak Tlingit on national television. When has that ever been done?”

Read more:

'My tribe is a beautiful community from Southeast Alaska': Five questions with Miss Alaska USA

Meet the first Tlingit Miss Alaska USA


 

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com or 523-2271.

 


 

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