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The making of a princess: Female Tribal members learn lesson in heritage

By By Janet Little Cooper
One of the highlights at the annual Poarch Creek Indian Pow Wow each year is the Princess competition.
Female Tribal members from the ages of 9 to 20 work for three months to prepare for the yearly competition that captures their heritage.
"The girls start in the end of August," princess committee chairman April Sells said. "During the month of September the girls practice their dance which is a southern cloth dance. And then in October the girls work to make their earrings and shawl for the competition."
Contestants are judged on their dance routine on the opening day of the Thanksgiving Pow Wow. The dance is intended to honor the drums according to Sells.
"We try to find out ahead of time whether or not we will have a northern or southern drum the day of the contest," Sells said. "We get a tape ahead of time and practice. The northern drum has a faster beat and the girls really have to listen for the honor beat opposed to the southern drum where the honor beat is more pronounced."
The tradition of the dance calls for the girls to bow their heads as they go to the center of the mound and then lift their head up as they come to the outer rim of the mound.
"In November, we try to wrap everything up," Sells said. "The girls complete the beading of their earrings and shawls and we attend another local Pow Wow."
This year the 12 contestants visited a Pow Wow held at Eglin Air Force Base on Nov. 4. The girls not only went to observe, but to also participate in inter-tribal dances. They were required to wear the earrings and shawls they had made also.
"The reason why we require the girls to make their earrings and shawls is to use the time to help form a bond between mother and daughter," Sells said. "It gets them working together and talking. We also hope that it will encourage the girls to do more with their culture. It also helps make the competition more meaningful for them. These things they hand make have way more meaning to them rather than if they were to go out and buy it. This process helps them see what actually goes into something like this."
The dresses worn by the contestants during the Pow Wow are made by someone else however. The girls can make specific request, but according to Sells they do have to follow certain requirements such as in the case of ribbons. The dress must have either four or seven rows of ribbon or none at all. Anything else will cost valuable lost points for the contestant.
"The dresses have to made with a small calico print," Sells said. "The Muskogee women were very modest. The dresses have a high collar, long sleeves and are full length. Judges look at the size of the calico print, the size of the ruffle and the apron just to name a few."
The dress and accessories are judged on Wednesday night prior to the Pow Wow. The girls are judged only on their dance the day of the Pow Wow.
"We hold a reception the night before the Pow Wow," Sells said. "That is when the judges look at the girls dresses and accessories and they each conduct a private interview. The only thing left to judge is the dance."
This years judges were Dude Blalock, Neil Lawhead and Carla McGhee. They chose Heather White as Senior Princess, while Brooke Bell was named first alternate. Taylor Wiggins was awarded the crown for Junior Princess with Deidre
Smith as first alternate and Hannah Gibson was crowned as Elementary Princess with Dariane Guy winning first alternate.
The other girls in the competition were: Dariane Guy, Melea McGhee, Kortlan Peebles, Brooke Tullis, Danielle Martin, Kaitlin Rolin, Deidre Smith, Brooke Bell and Hillary Rolin.
The princess committee is responsible for the girls from August until after they are crowned. After being crowned the girls are then controlled by the Community Relations Department.
The first required appearance of the new princesses is to participate in the Pow Wow Grand Entry. After that their next appearance will follow with the Christmas Parade scheduled for Dec. 1.