Local woman wins Native pageant

National pageant recognizes outstanding Native women steeped in their cultures

Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Madeline Soboleff Levy of Juneau has been named Miss National Congress of American Indians.

It's another step in the path of self-discovery for Soboleff Levy, a product of two ancient cultures and someone who didn't know her Tlingit name until she was a teenager.

Soboleff Levy, 20, is a 2002 honors graduate from Juneau-Douglas High School. She is studying communications at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. She won a $5,000 scholarship at the NCAI pageant.

Soboleff Levy is the daughter of Jan and Keith Levy and Ross and Vicki Soboleff. She is the granddaughter of Douglas and Anne Gregg, Lily Gregg, Al and Helene Levy, and Dr. Walter Soboleff, Stella Soboleff and Genevieve Soboleff.

She's part Tlingit and Haida, and belongs to the L'eeneidi/Raven-Dog Salmon Clan. And she's been bat mitzvahed, a Jewish ceremony celebrating the age of religious responsibility.

"She's probably had the first Tlingit bat mitzvah in Alaska," Keith Levy said. "She said she has four supportive parents. She walks comfortably in a lot of different worlds."

In her freshman year at Juneau-Douglas High School, Soboleff Levy became a member of the All Nations' Children dance group, a Native troupe led by stepmother Vicki Soboleff. She has also studied ballet. Her mother, Jan Levy, is a singer and choral conductor.

Because Soboleff Levy lived in Maryland from age 3 to 8, she wasn't fully aware of her Native heritage, she said. The first night she was in the Native dance group, she was asked her Tlingit name and didn't know it.

"I can tell you that now and what it means," she said. "It's been a really amazing experience getting to hear all of these stories and all of this history."

The Miss NCAI Scholarship Pageant recognizes outstanding Native women who are high school seniors or full-time college students, the organization said. Ten women, including Courtney Moore of Fairbanks, competed Oct. 9 to 11 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"This is not a beauty pageant, per se," said national coordinator Alyssa Burhans from Minneapolis. "The judges are looking for the young women's ability to speak and be in the public eye."

Judges consider the contestants' knowledge of tribal government, culture and history, as well as scholastic achievement, communication skills, presentation and personality, according to NCAI, an organization composed of some 250 tribes.

Soboleff Levy also won the pageant's Best Talent award, which she had received once before, when she first participated in 2001.

This time, Soboleff Levy filled in for Rose Natkong of Pelican, who won the 2004 Miss Tlingit Haida Youth Leadership Pageant. Soboleff Levy was first runner-up in the Tlingit Haida contest. She represented the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

In 2001, she won the NCAI pageant's Best Talent award for singing the Tlingit national anthem. She won it this time for singing an 18th century Italian aria.

"She's a girl that has a broad cultural background," Ross Soboleff said. "I think that one thing that drew her to this (the pageant) was an awakening and growing interest in her Alaska Native background.

"I think you get a certain amount of culture, whatever your culture is, by osmosis, which kind of sparks an interest in you. The rest of it you acquire by your interest in it. It's a learned thing and a participative thing."

Pageant contestants are briefly interviewed by judges. They submit essays on an important Indian issue. They show their poise while modeling formal wear and traditional regalia, and answering an impromptu question.

Writing of Native youths, Soboleff Levy said: "A great deal of their talents and abilities are lost due to low self-esteem, which must change before they can have the courage to present their skills to the world."

Soboleff Levy said the high dropout rates don't adequately represent the capabilities and intelligence of Natives.

Pageant winners are expected to attend three meetings of the NCAI during the year, where they may be called upon to speak. Soboleff Levy said she also wants to travel and learn about programs that teach Native youths about their culture and tribal governments.

Soboleff Levy "can provide encouragement to all Native youth to stay in school, graduate and go on to higher education to increase their opportunities and fulfill their potential," stepmother Vicki Soboleff said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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