Culture

Kiowa Tribe Princess Balances the Demands of Her Position – and Still Does Homework

Alyssa Granado is like many 18-year-olds in the Kiowa Tribe, balancing the demands of school with time for family and friends. Except that she’s the tribe’s princess.

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ANADARKO, OKLAHOMA — Alyssa Granado paces nervously, the late-day sun blazing above. The American Indian Exposition begins in less than an hour, and hundreds of spectators have gathered to watch Granado and others parade across the Caddo County Fairgrounds in Anadarko, a city in southwest Oklahoma.

Since the early 1930s, tribes in this area have been selecting young women from their communities to become princesses. Those chosen to fill the esteemed role are required to attend the expo, an annual gathering featuring dance performances, parades, horse races, archery competitions and a pageant. The expo lasts for four days, with 15 tribes taking part.

But there’s more to the title. Throughout the year, princesses attend major tribal ceremonies to honor and preserve decades of sacred practices. The tribe’s top requirement for Granado, an 18-year-old Kiowa princess, is education. Being a princess is exciting and difficult at the same time, Granado says. It takes discipline to fulfill her duties as princess, keep her grades up and still have time for family and friends, she says.

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Jeannie Granado (left), the mother of Alyssa Granado (center), pins a sash to her daughter’s buckskin dress. The front of the sash displays the title Kiowa Tribal Princess, and the back has Alyssa Granado’s full name. When representing her tribe at receptions and local events, Granado wears this sash. Juleen Davilla, Granado’s grandmother, arrives to assist in preparing the princess for a parade at the American Indian Exposition. Getting the tribal princess ready for events is often a family effort.

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A.J. Davilla (left), Granado’s grandfather, gently places a war bonnet on her head, just before she rides her horse in the parade. Granado says that it’s an honor to wear the war bonnet, a traditional headdress that is usually reserved for tribal leaders and that is made of eagle’s feathers and other materials.

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Granado attends Carnegie High School in Carnegie, a town in western Oklahoma, where the student population is less than 600, says Hope Worthington, the school’s Johnson O’Malley Program coordinator. The Johnson O’Malley Program is authorized by the Johnson O’Malley Act of 1934 to subsidize education for Native American students. More than half of the student population at Carnegie High School is Native American, hailing from more than 15 different tribes, Worthington says. Granado is in her final year of high school.

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On weekdays, Granado can be found dashing through the school’s halls and making trips to her locker to unload the heavy books that many of her courses require. Granado says her busy schedule as a princess makes it difficult for her to keep up with school, but she’s determined to have a strong finish. She often stays up late into the night to catch up with schoolwork.

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Granado still manages to make time for her hobbies. After dinner with her mother at their home in Carnegie, she bakes a batch of red velvet cupcakes for dessert.

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Granado also enjoys taking care of herself. Before bed, she takes out her colored contact lenses and ends her nightly beauty routine with a facial scrub.

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Before the school year began in August, Granado was employed as an office assistant for the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma’s Teen Suicide Prevention Program, which is federally funded. Under her supervisors, she was able to develop administrative skills while gaining work experience. On her mousepad is the official logo of the Kiowa Tribe. It shows 10 eagle feathers and a Kiowa warrior on a horse.

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After the parade at the American Indian Exposition, the Kiowa Tribal Princess Sorority hosts a reception for Granado. The sorority was established in 1999, to offer support to the reigning princess and to former princesses. Granado cuts and serves cake during the reception.

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Much of Granado’s tribal regalia is made with glass beads, ribbons, buckskin, silver conchos and other fragile materials that must be handled with care. When Granado takes off her tribal regalia, she wraps each item individually and places it in her suitcase for storage. The tribal regalia can be expensive, she says. The average cost of a buckskin dress is $2,000.

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Granado is a member of the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) Kiowa chapter. The organization’s mission is to foster development among tribes through youth participation. Her local chapter meets every Monday at the Kiowa Tribal Complex in Carnegie and is currently sponsoring a moccasin-making class to assist local young people in making their own moccasins for an upcoming “Rock Your Mocs” event.

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After the weekly meeting, Granado meets some friends at the Carnegie Liberty Theatre to catch a movie. The theater is the oldest continually operated theater in Oklahoma and is famous for their fountain sodas and hot dogs, commonly called “show pop” and “show dogs.”