Diane Coon Come of Mistissini was crowned princess of Eeyou Istchee November 18 as the winner of the 2023 Miss Eeyou Eenou Iskwaau pageant.
The biennial pageant held since 2017 celebrates the young women of the Cree Nation. The Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association (CWEIA) says the program is intended to empower young women.
CWIEA President Charlotte Ottereyes Ratt gave an emotional speech during the closing remarks of the pageant. “Don’t give up, keep striving, keep moving forward,” she told contestants. “You are the future.”
Ratt acknowledged the familial support directed towards the contestants, noting some family members had traveled long distances to attend the pageant, and showed her pride for the young contestants. “You’re all our Miss Eeyou,” she declared. “I would like to crown everyone one of you.”
The event centred on Cree culture in contests such as the traditional attire presentation. The nine finalists also were asked to give insight into the occasions, significance and style methods associated with their outfits. A talent competition focused on traditional singing, dancing and storytelling.
Finally, contestants’ public speaking abilities, discussing their culture and community, were demonstrated for a panel of judges. Dressed in blue and yellow, Coon Come stepped away from the podium and delivered her speech in Cree. Her presentation style lent itself to a more direct and intimate connection with the audience.
Coon Come was congratulated by the Grand Council of the Crees, as well as by first runner-up Jade Mukash of Whapmagoostui and second runner-up Stormie Diamond of Waskaganish.
Despite the celebratory mood, the pageant was not without criticism. Geraldine Shecapio, the 2021 pageant winner recently stated that she had negative experiences from the organization’s leadership, due to her identity as a two-spirited person.
Shecapio claimed one board member suggested she attend “conversion therapy,” and that another member didn’t “agree with [her] lifestyle.” She also pointed to exclusionary language in the pageant’s eligibility criterion. Shecapio said she wanted to step down from the princess role, but chose to stay because she didn’t want to be bullied out of the position.
In response, the CWEIA stated in a press release that the wording of the eligibility criteria was based on a “misunderstanding”, adding the language had been corrected to make the contest more open towards two-spirited peoples.