Turtle Mountain woman may be first Native American crowned Miss North Dakota USA – InForum

GRAND FORKS — Growing up, SaNoah LaRocque never saw a woman who looked like her on the stage at Miss USA pageants. As a Native American from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, she wanted to.

On Sunday, May 1, LaRocque, 25, may have become the first Native American woman to be crowned Miss North Dakota USA. The pageant is part of an international competition that stretches from state pageants to a final event with women from across the world.

“North Dakota is more than my home state, it is the land that my people have called home for time immemorial. This is the homeland for the people and culture that I love, and it cannot be understated how much of an honor this is, not only for me, but for Native people in general,” LaRocque told The Forum after she was crowned.

Organizers couldn’t say with certainty that LaRocque was the first Native American Miss North Dakota USA in the 71 years of pageant history, but, “To my knowledge she may be the first,” said Libby Watkins, assistant state director for the Miss ND USA pageant.

Another Native American woman from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Gabriella Lilley, will compete for the Miss North Dakota title this summer, according to a GoFundMe account set up by Lilley, who was recently crowned Miss Williston 2022.

“If I am crowned your next Miss North Dakota I would be the first ever Native American to hold this title,” Lilley wrote in the GoFundMe introduction. She will be competing for Miss North Dakota in June and aspires to participate in the Miss America pageant, which differs from Miss USA.

The Miss North Dakota USA and Miss North Dakota Teen USA pageants took place at the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks last weekend. The crowd was at capacity for the annual competition, which no longer had coronavirus pandemic restrictions, and winners will advance to compete next year at the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants.

Berkeley Lundeen, of Minot, won the title of Miss North Dakota Teen USA.

LaRocque and Lundeen will each receive thousands of dollars in prizes and awards, and the winners of the national pageants will go on to participate in the Miss Universe competition, which is televised in more than 130 countries.

Two women wear crowns and sashes and hold bouquets of red roses.

SaNoah LaRocque, Miss North Dakota USA, will go on to the national competition for Miss USA. Next to her is Berkley Lundeen, of Minot, who was crowned Miss North Dakota Teen USA on Sunday, May 1, 2022.

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“The first year I did run was in 2020, and I was the first runner-up, which was encouraging. Since then, I got the pageant bug and understand that being involved in the pageant world is more than being on stage in a pretty dress. I found my voice through pageantry,” LaRocque said.

She graduated from Grand Forks Central High School in 2015, then she went to Harvard University where she studied human evolutionary biology. Now, she’s working for FSA Advisory Group, providing investment consulting services for Native tribes.

A powwow dancer since she was 2 years old, and also a jingle dress dancer, LaRocque was a cheerleader in high school and college. She’s planning to run the Fargo half marathon this year and spends her free time working out and taking care of Halo, her pet mini Australian shepherd.

LaRocque’s younger years were difficult, she said. She was born to a single mother and has a brother and sister.

“Part of my story is that my mom was pretty abusive to me at a young age, and eventually I was raised by my grandparents. I didn’t have a relationship with my father growing up. Now, as an adult, we’ve connected and I am happy to have him in my life,” she said.

“For me, what made such a difference was having strong role models and people I can depend on. My grandparents provided so much strength for me,” she said. “We come from a culture that is supportive, and leaning into my Native culture and being proud of my identity has really helped me to rationalize what I went through growing up and feel strong despite the past.”

Out of the three sections of the competition — swimwear, evening wear and the interview — LaRocque enjoys the interview part most because “it challenges my mind,” she said.

Her manager, Watkins, said her job includes being LaRocque’s agent and publicist.

“The judges select somebody they think is capable of representing an international brand, and the ladies that compete team up with charitable organizations and causes. SaNoah has shown a real interest in representing disadvantaged youth and her Ella Native community, as well, ”Watkins said.

One way LaRocque keeps fit is keeping a holistic diet, she said. She limits herself to traditional Native American food sources like ground bison, which she eats several times a week, wild rice and berries. She recently moved from Belcourt to Bismarck, so avoiding Chick-Fil-A is an obstacle she faces, she said.

LaRocque will go on to attempt to win the national crown at Miss USA in September this year, and if she wins, she can move on to the Miss Universe pageant.

“I am representing a whole facet of the American identity that has for so long been underrepresented. I cannot be more humbled and grateful,” LaRocque said. “This is the homeland for the people and culture that I love, and it cannot be understated how much of an honor this is — not only for me, but for Native people in general.”

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