SHERIDAN — Shayla Conner is the second Northern Cheyenne woman to claim the title of Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen. Her grandmother, Carolyn Small Martin, was the first in 1958.
At Conner’s coronation Sept. 7, Rynalea Whiteman Pena, president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, presented Conner with a Pendleton blanket to honor her achievement.
Conner said in her culture, it is customary to give someone a gift to show respect and pride for one’s accomplishments.
Her grandmother was standing next to her as Pena wrapped a blanket around Conner, representing love surrounding her. Receiving such a gift is a true honor, Martin said.
Conner said she is proud to represent both her tribe and the Sheridan WYO Rodeo with her new title.
Receiving a Pendleton blanket and speaking Cheyenne at the coronation were comforting reminders to Conner that her tribe is a part of her. She wants to preserve and learn more about a language that’s fading, she said.
Conner feels good when others hear her language and recognize that the Northern Cheyenne Tribe is there — it’s not overly common for Native American women to be involved in the Sheridan WYO Rodeo because of the requirement that competitors live within a certain distance from Sheridan, she said.
She said the rodeo contest is a great opportunity for people who don’t know a lot about Native American culture to ask questions. She also enjoys sharing what she has learned about rodeo with Northern Cheyenne people; everyone learns something through the process, she said.
It’s important to represent the tribe well, have a good reputation and good character, Martin said. Martin said she and Connor both have positive reputations and are good horsewomen.
“[We] don’t want to do anything to disgrace our tribe and I think both Shayla and I have lived up to that,” Martin said.
The Northern Cheyenne tribe has more than 11,000 enrolled members with about 5,000 living on the reservation in southeast Montana, according to its website.
Martin is proud to have followed in the footsteps of her uncles and father who were saddle bronc riders, bareback riders and ropers. Martin is still ranching today and has enjoyed passing her passion and skill to her granddaughters.
The family is happy to help and support Conner’s passions and goals, she said. Conner is currently attending Northwest College and plans to become a veterinary technician.
As a child, Conner didn’t imagine she’d have the opportunity to become a rodeo queen, but loved ranching and horses from a young age. She wanted to be a “little rancher,” Martin said.
While Martin didn’t receive a gift from the tribe like Conner, she said tribal members still expressed their pride and congratulations for her success when she was crowned rodeo queen in 1958. The tribe honors you when you honor them, she said.
In preparation for the contest, Conner mentally prepared every day as her grandmother helped her learn all about a saddle, bridle, horse’s parts and practice miscellaneous questions about world events and rodeo.
In 1958, Martin said she knew the same information but wasn’t quizzed about it during the event. When Martin competed, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo crowned a rodeo queen based on an audience meter rather than judges.
Martin’s buckskin outfit she wore during the contest now hangs in the Don King Museum. She wishes her granddaughter could wear it — Conner is the same size as she was.
Conner said it must have been special for her grandmother to hear a whole community voicing that they wanted her to represent them through the rodeo.
When giving an impromptu speech during the contest, it’s just as important to speak to the people watching as the judges, to show one’s commitment to representing their community as a rodeo queen, Conner said.
Conner plans to share the fun and hard work behind the contest with other young women and encourage them to become involved.
In the coming year as rodeo queen, she looks forward to improving her public speaking skills, meeting new people and preparing for the Miss Rodeo Wyoming competition next summer.
Lots of rodeo queens will be coming prepared, but she plans to focus on herself and do her best.
“Hopefully [I’ll] bring the title back to Sheridan,” she said.
After completing school to become a veterinary technician, Conner plans to continue a ranching lifestyle and provide services for people locally.
Martin would like to see more Northern Cheyenne women involved in the Sheridan WYO Rodeo, and she’s hoping to convince her granddaughters to try out. Martin is from a big ranching family. She is happy to share her knowledge and skills with her grandchildren, including Conner and two other granddaughters, 6 and 10, who are already good horsewomen and love to chase cows, she said.
“I would really like them to follow in our footsteps,” Martin said.
Martin said it’s important for Conner to express her culture because Northern Cheyenne people are proud of their identity and heritage.
By Allayana Darrow
The Sheridan Press