Once upon time, a long, long time ago, I ran for Miss WEIO. While I didn’t win, it was a great experience to go through. I learned a lot about myself, Koyukon Athabascan people and how to bead. My family helped to make traditional Athabascan regalia and I learned to sing the Indian song, Good Bye My Sunny. I still look up to and admire the other ladies I ran with, like Tara Sweeney (Miss WEIO that year), Mary Sattler, Jessie Downey, Charlene Ostbloom, and more.
My niece, Chanda Simon, of Ester was the 2014 Miss WEIO. Chanda is Koyukon Athabascan and Yup’ik. She is the daughter of Chris and Letha Simon. Chris’ hometown is Huslia, and Letha’s is Bethel. Chris and I are cousins. Chanda is an accomplished young lady and is working to obtain her bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Chanda plans to obtain a master’s degree in business after she finishes her undergrad studies. After college, she plans to works in a finance department in a Native corporation and ultimately become a chief financial officer.
I caught up with Chanda in Anchorage and asked her about her experience. When asked why she decided to run for Miss WEIO, she said she wanted to become more involved in the community. It was a challenge for her to become comfortable speaking in front of people. Chanda’s dad told her that it gets easier over time, and she did in fact become more comfortable.
Chanda was not sure how well she would do in the competition. She said, ‘What helped me overcome that is I knew I was entering with a good heart and the right expectations, and it is the experience that matters.” That is definitely the right attitude to have when competing for Miss WEIO. It is a great learning experience and you really have to become an ambassador for your culture.
For the talent competition, Chanda sang and played the violin to the song, Eagle Island Blues. While she and her siblings have played violin in front of an audience, it was the first time she sang for in front of people. Chanda is especially grateful for her parents, siblings and her aunt Geraldine for supporting her throughout the process.
Miss WEIO serves as a role model for many Native girls across the state and to others with educational and career goals. Chanda says, “As I’m getting a little older and I’ve had more life experiences, I feel like I can help others see they are strong enough to get through hard times in life.” Chanda encourages other young people to follow their dreams and work toward their goals. She gained a lot already from her experience and encourages others to try for the Miss WEIO crown in the future.
“Get out and do it. It really is the experience that is important, not where you place. You will definitely gain so much experience in public speaking, and become even stronger in your culture.” – Chanda Simon, Miss WEIO 2014
Chanda is grateful to the community for supporting her and other young people. Many people had kind and supportive words for her, and she especially appreciated them when she was really nervous. In April 2015, Chanda will participate in the Miss Indian World pageant in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She looks forward to the new experience and representing WEIO and Alaska Native people.
“Value your education. It might not be the most exciting thing to focus on, but it is something that can never be taken away from you.” – Chanda Simon, Miss WEIO 2014
Chanda Simon is an inspiring young lady. I wish her the best in her future endeavors. Judging by Chanda’s accomplishments so far, I would say our future is bright with future leaders like her.