Meet the New Miss Cherokee, Tyra Maney | Cherokee, NC

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Meet the New Miss Cherokee, Tyra Maney

(Photo by EBCI Communications.)

When Tyra Maney competed in the 2021 Miss Cherokee Pageant, she stepped out on the stage and let go of her expectations. She took a deep breath, but she wasn’t nervous. She was ready. 

Tyra, 25, grew up in the Yellow Hill community in Cherokee. She is a designer at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and has held previous roles at the museum, including Cultural Specialist Coordinator, and being one of the Atsila Anotasgi Cultural Specialists. This year, she is a senior at Kennesaw University and wrapping up her studies in graphic communication.

(The Miss Cherokee 2021 contestants: back row, L-R: Tyra Maney Samantha Cole; front row, L-R, Lacey Arch, Raylen Bark.)

Competing in a time of COVID

Tyra previously competed for the title of Miss Cherokee in 2016 and 2017, before the pandemic, when the event was held at the annual Cherokee Indian Fair in front of hundreds of people.

For the 2021 competition, the pageant was closed to the public and held at the Joyce Dugan Cultural Center at Cherokee Central Schools. Each of the contestants was allowed to invite a set number of people to attend, which was one of the biggest challenges for Tyra.

“I think the hardest thing was we were only allowed 25 guests. I have a big family – with 25 guests, that’s all of my family, not including my sponsors or friends. Luckily I was able to make it work.”

There were other challenges too, like not having the same level of help as in previous years.  

“When I ran before, usually my mom was backstage the whole time, and whoever I hired as my hair and makeup, but because of COVID, we were only allowed one person at a time. So someone would help me get dressed, then someone else would come in to touch up my hair and makeup.”

It created a flurry of activity backstage, with people coming and going, but through it all, Tyra did her best to stay calm and focused. 

(Miss Cherokee 2019-2021, Amy West, and Tyra Maney, Miss Cherokee 2021-2022. Photo by A&M Photography.)

A Cultural Affair

The Cherokee pageant is a cultural pageant for enrolled EBCI members, with crowns for Little Miss Cherokee, Junior Miss Cherokee, Teen Miss Cherokee, and Miss Cherokee. Contestants introduce themselves in Cherokee and English, walk in traditional wear, share a community-based project as part of their platform, and present a talent.

Tyra wore a trade shirt with a white wool skirt, a pink feather cape, pucker toe moccasins, and a twine bag for her traditional wear. Her family members made her shirt and skirt, and she made the feather cape with imitation flamingo feathers. 

“Traditionally, feather capes were worn for warmth, using a variety of feathers, but there were other kinds that were worn to show status, and made with turkey feathers. In my research at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, I learned that Cherokees would trade with other tribes for different kinds of feathers.” 

 “And one of the things that we traded for was actually flamingo feathers. That’s my favorite animal, so I decided it would be cool to use those.”

The feather cape took Tyra around 60 hours to complete. 

“I started it two weeks before the pageant, and when I wasn’t at work, I was at my house making the net, attaching the feathers, and folding them out.” 

Her pucker toe moccasins were made by Evan Mathis, Director of Collections and Exhibitions at Cherokee Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and her twine bag was created by Jarrett Wildcatt who is the Lead Cultural Specialist at the museum.

(Nola Teesatuskie shows the traditional tattoos that Tyra created on her fingers, representing fingerweaving. Photo by A&M Photography.)

A New Talent

For her talent, Tyra did something that contestants had never done before. She shared the historical process of traditional Cherokee tattoos and demonstrated the technique. At first, she wasn’t sure how it would go over with the pageant board, but they were surprisingly supportive. 

“The pageant board said we’d never had that before, go ahead.”  

“Tattoos have always been an interest of mine. When I learned about the history and culture of being Cherokee, I realized that tattoos are not a modern thing. They’ve been a part of who we are for thousands of years,” says Tyra. 

In 2019, Tyra had the opportunity to be tattooed by Warren Taylor from Williamsburg, VA, from the Pamunkey nation, who gave a demonstration at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian about the ancient process of South Western tattooing. (Read more here.

“It took him about six hours total to do the bands of my fingers. During that time, he told me about the process of using river birch to make the ink and what we would have used for needling.” 

He also demonstrated how to keep the process clean and sanitary by applying modern processes such as wearing gloves, disinfecting the equipment, and how to keep the tattoo clean. 

At the end of their time together, Warren gave Tyra two copper needles, to try it for herself. 

“Traditionally, our tattoos were basically descriptions of who we were and told stories about battles we had fought. They were an identifier, like a signature,” explains Tyra. 

After practicing the handpoke method with the copper needles from Warren on herself, Tyra was ready to tattoo her friend Nola Teesatuskie for the talent portion of the Miss Cherokee competition.

In the interest of time, Tyra did the tattooing the weekend before the pageant, with Nola sitting for four hours over two days. Tyra’s mother, Kristy Herron Maney, took photos of the process so that Tyra could share them on stage during the talent portion of the event, along with a display of the tools and plant-based ink she’d used. 

“The design I did on Nola’s fingers is the chevron design from our finger woven belts. Nola’s primary craft is finger weaving, and that was her way of identifying herself as a Cherokee finger weaver,” Tyra shared. 

(EBCI Principal Chief Richard and Miss Cherokee 2021-2022, Tyra Maney. Photo by A&M Photography.)

On Being Miss Cherokee

When her name was announced as Miss Cherokee, a big cheer went through the auditorium, as Tyra’s family members celebrated her achievement.

Tyra was happily surprised. “I think I was really shocked, like oh, I won!” 

She was crowned by the former Miss Cherokee, Amy West, and EBCI Principal Chief Richard, who carefully placed a stunning beaded crown onto her head.

The crown, made by Jenn Bird and Evan Mathis, is a piece of art, and made with thousands of seed beads. It is something Tyra will get to keep and treasure for the rest of her life. 

For Tyra, having the title of Miss Cherokee is an honor and a privilege. 

“Miss Cherokee is an ambassador for the entire tribe, not just our community,”  she says.  

“It seems like a very big responsibility, and I don’t like to take it lightly. I like to put in as much effort as I can. I’m new to my role, and I’m excited for all the new memories and people that I’ll meet.” 

Tyra wants to use her reign to lift up and empower those voices in the community actively working to preserve Cherokee traditional ways and values. 

“I believe that it takes a community to further our culture and traditions for future generations, and we can’t just rely on a small handful of people to make that happen.”

She encourages anyone interested in learning more about Cherokee culture to visit Cherokee, NC. 

“I think anyone who has an interest in our culture in the community should come out, and we would love for them to come forward and ask questions and learn more about our traditional ways and values.” 

(Tyra Maney, crowned Miss Cherokee 2021-22 by EBCI Chief Sneed and the 2019-2021 Miss Cherokee,  Amy West. Photo by Kristy Maney.)

Follow Along

You can keep up with Tyra on her social media platforms:

Instagram: _tydie

Facebook: Tyra Maney

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