Tara Kranz
(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

Danielle Ta'Sheena Finn, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and native of Porcupine, ND, was busy and content in obtaining her law degree at Arizona State University until everything changed on April 30th. This is when she participated in the Miss Indian World Pageant 2016 at the 33rd Annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, NM and was surprised and humbled to walk away with the title. "I was already jumping; I guess I couldn't even contain it. As soon as they said Standing Rock, I knew that I made history. I knew in the back of my head, if I did it, I made history." Finn certainly did make history as the first enrolled member of a North Dakota tribe to win the title.

This was the second time Finn competed in the Miss Indian World Pageant. At her first competition in 2014, she got second runner-up, so she felt confident heading to the 2016 competition. She competed in five categories: personal interview, talent presentation, on-stage public question, dance competition and personal essay. Finn had a unique goal for the personal interview portion: "For me, my goal going into the panel of judges was to make every single one of them smile at me. I figured that's the way I would get them to like me." It seemed to work for Finn, as she won this portion of the contest. She also received the highest score in the public on-stage question category.

Finn competed with three specific platforms in mind: suicide prevention, higher education, and language preservation. Her passion for the higher education of Native Americans was apparent when she spoke about a common misconception surrounding the Native American culture. "What bothers me the most is people think that we get free education, and we don't get free education -- which is extremely sad. If there is something that I feel like we should be getting, it is free education because then we can go help our community as educated members of society."

Finn also expressed concern about the stereotype that all Native Americans live on reservations. "I think people have this mentality that we are only in isolated areas and we live in poverty; but that's actually not true." According to Finn, 80 percent of Native Americans live off the reservation.

Perhaps it was Finn's immense pride in her Native American heritage that caught the eyes of the judges. "(My heritage) has affected me in the most positive ways. I think it has instilled a lot of pride in who I am and knowing my background and my ancestry. I think it also makes me a better North Dakotan, in a way, because I have such ties to the land historically." Pride, courage, and bravery are the three qualities Finn claims to have gained from her Native American roots.

Finn not only has a tremendous respect for her heritage, but more specifically, for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which is the fourth largest tribe in the United States, encompassing two states. "Lakota people -- we live our lives for the wellbeing of all our people. When we are born, we are supposed to have in the back of our mind that our people continue to live."

As Miss Indian World 2016, Finn will spend the year promoting cultural awareness at various pow wows, conferences, and schools. She will travel frequently and speak to both Native and non-native audiences. "I will get to share my culture, which is awesome because no one has ever really gotten to share about Standing Rock."

Finn will be graduating with her Juris Doctorate degree this December and plans to take the bar exam in North Dakota following her Miss Indian World 2016 duties. "I will most likely go to work for my tribe, fighting for my people, helping my people. Everything I can do for Standing Rock possible. That is my long-term goal: always helping Standing Rock."

Tara Kranz is an English teacher turned stay-at-home mom from Bismarck. She is an aspiring freelance writer who enjoys blogging, crafting, getting involved at church, movie nights with her husband and whatever will make her son smile.