For most people, standing on a stage under the spotlight wearing a pink dress and high heels with a shaved head sounds intimidating. For April Yazza at the 2014 Miss Native American USA, it was a dream come true. Not only did she win the crown, but she earned it by being herself – tattoo sleeves, septum piercing, shaved head and all.
The title opened the world for Yazza, and most importantly, provided her a microphone to speak up about issues that would otherwise simmer in the dark. “Pageants make my voice much louder than it already is,” says Yazza, who dominates the interview portion of pageants – her favorite competition.
Five years ago, the dimple-cheeked beauty was off to the races: she won Miss Congeniality at Miss Indian World, graduated high school, and enrolled at Fort Lewis College. In late 2013, though, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic illness that forced her to step away from school and return home to Albuquerque to sort out a treatment plan.
Though at times she needed her mother to help her stand and dress, Yazza attended the University of New Mexico and continued competing in pageants, winning Miss Native American USA six months after her diagnosis.
"When I have a passion and I want to speak about it, I know the best place to start is through the pageant."
As soon as the pain was manageable, the 23-year-old Communication Design senior marched back to FLC, where she now sees endless possibilities and jumps at all chances to serve – from barista at Animas Perks to president of the Residential Hall Association to integral member of the women’s support group at the Counseling Center.
In Spring 2018, Yazza, a member of the Zuni Pueblo and Navajo Nation, was crowned Ms. Hozhoni – a Navajo term encompassing beauty, harmony, and balance. Unlike her other pageant titles, Yazza says the Ms. Hozhoni position doesn’t compete with her studies but rather, with the help of scholarships and Wanbli Ota, the campus Native American club, pushes her closer to becoming the first in her immediate family to earn a college degree.
Initially, she used her pageant work as a platform to raise awareness for the Arthritis Foundation and the homeless. This year, the stage serves as an arena to shed light on survivors of sexual assault, a personal healing journey Yazza has only recently embarked upon.
“When I have a passion and I want to speak about it, I know the best place to start is through the pageant,” says Yazza. “My spot is on the stage.”