A Year as Miss Cherokee: An interview with Miss Cherokee 2010 Tonya Carroll

September 22, 2011

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

            Tonya Carroll has served the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians this past year as one its official ambassadors – Miss Cherokee 2010.  During her reign, she has attended numerous events locally and has represented the Tribe at events in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Berlin, Germany. 

Miss Cherokee Tonya Carroll (seated 2nd from right) and Teen Miss Cherokee Andrea Cedillo (seated right) visit a Cherokee language immersion class at the New Kituwah Academy. (Photo by Jan Smith)

COF: Overall, how was your year as Miss Cherokee?

     Overall, my year as Miss Cherokee was a great experience. Of course, there were times I struggled with balancing work, Miss Cherokee duties, and other obligations. At times, it seemed as if there were not enough hours in the day! However, it was really an honor to be able to get to represent the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

     I am very proud of our people and all of the things we have accomplished while keeping our culture alive. It was easy to share that with the different people I met during my travels. I also really enjoyed participating in the events we have in Cherokee. We are truly fortunate to be able to have all of the wonderful culturally-based events on the Qualla Boundary. Not only do we get to share our culture but we get to learn about other cultures without having to leave the comfort of home.

COF: You got the chance to travel quite a bit this past year.  What was your favorite trip? 

     One of my favorite past times is traveling. Being able to go to so many places as Miss Cherokee was a wonderful bonus. It is hard to choose a favorite because they were all fun and different, but for me I really enjoyed going to Oklahoma for the Choctaw Princess pageants and the Cherokee National Holidays. All year I looked forward to that particular trip because over the years I have met many people that come here from Oklahoma to visit us and I always wanted to be able to go visit them. I was worried at first that since my expectations for the trip were so high that in one way or another I might be let down, but I was not. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. It was like visiting family or old friends when we got there and I guess in a way we were visiting family because we met a lot of our brothers and sisters from the Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band.

Miss Cherokee Tonya Carroll visits the Blue Spring at Red Clay State Historic Park in Tennessee. (Photo by Jan Smith)

COF: What was the most challenging thing about being Miss Cherokee?

     For me, one of the most challenging things about being Miss Cherokee was the fact that I was representing an entire nation of people. It is a big responsibility. Some days I wanted to sleep in but I would have an event scheduled. Other times, I would be sick but I would have to put all those feelings aside in order to be able to positively represent the Eastern Band, because for some of the people I met it was the first and maybe only time they would be exposed to a Cherokee person or Cherokee culture. I took this role very seriously and I always tried to keep in mind what Miss Cherokee’s role is for our tribe and put aside my personal issues in order to fulfill my duties.

COF: You got the chance to speak to many young people during your reign, what message or messages did you try to leave them with? 

     One of my favorite things to do as Miss Cherokee was to go to local schools or attend events geared to our youth because they are so much fun. I always encouraged them to have open minds especially when I was explaining aspects of our culture to them that might be different from what they have been taught. I also took the opportunity to encourage them to always do their best work at anything they do in life. Finally, I always wanted to make them feel like they are important because they are, especially when I spoke to Cherokee youth. They may be young now but soon they will become the leaders of our tribe and it will be up to them to pass on our traditions and culture. What surprised me was how much they taught me. The most important thing I learned from the young people I met is to take time to enjoy life and stay young at heart. It really does make the stressful things in life easier to deal with.

COF: During your reign, you probably met several thousand people at various events.  Can you tell the readers about one person that you found particularly interesting? 

     This is a good question because I have said throughout the year that the best memories of my reign are not the events I attended but the people I met at those events. At all of the events I attended I have met truly remarkable people. Some of my favorite people I have met are the ones from other tribes. I have even made plans to visit some of them after my reign is up. Since I have met so many great people I don’t want to single out just one person. I apologize for such a diplomatic answer but it is true I just can’t narrow it down!

COF: Do you have any last thoughts you’d like to leave the readers with?

     I just want to thank the community for all of their help this year. I have gotten so much support from them this past year that I am sure if it was not for their help my year would have been very difficult and much less productive. I would also like to give a lot of credit to the Miss Cherokee Royalty Board for their dedication to the Miss Cherokees of the Eastern Band and of course my family and friends. Finally, I hope that I have been able to fulfill my duties and represent our tribe in a respectable way. Sgi.