QUITO, Ecuador – Some calling it “worse than the GRAMMYs,” Native viewers
are taking offense at Miss USA Shandi Finnessey’s war bonnet version of a
national costume in the June 1 NBC broadcast of the Miss Universe beauty
Finnessey, who finished as first runner-up to Miss Australia, paraded in
body-length war-bonnet style regalia, furnished with fluffy white plumes.
She also wore straps studded with circular metal medallions, and apparently
The imitation headdress particularly offended Tex Hall, president of the
National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Three Affiliated
Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota. “We only
use the war bonnet for war or for a chieftain’s duties or for spiritual
ceremonies,” he said. “It is never worn by a woman.”
In her pageant presentation, Finnessey invoked the inspiration of her North
Dakota grandmother, a connection that provoked Hall. “Indians are seven to
eight percent of the population in North Dakota,” he said. “You would think
that she would have been more understanding and more aware of the
traditional importance of the war bonnet.”
Finnessey’s costume reminded many of the outcry over the performance by the
hip-hop duo OutKast at the GRAMMY Awards earlier this year. Hall said that
neither the GRAMMYs nor CBS ever made more than a tepid apology for the
scanty green-dyed imitation Indian outfits worn by the backup singers. He
said that OutKast members had “made somewhat of an apology” later in a
personal conversation with the Native rapper and actor Litefoot, but they
had never delivered on a promise to give a performance for Indian youth.
Hall said NCAI would demand an apology from the Miss Universe Organization
and the broadcaster NBC.
The Miss Universe broadcast is a partnership of NBC and casino mogul Donald
Trump, who owns the contest. It started half a century ago as a local
bathing beauty contest in Long Beach, Calif., sponsored by Catalina
Swimwear. With its global focus, it now gives a special award to the
“delegate who displayed her country’s pride and spirit best in costume.”
Finnessey did not receive it.