An Unusual Miss Navajo

  • Former Miss Navajo Radmilla Cody, right, with her sister Jamie, at the family home in Grand Falls, Arizona.

    Diego James Robles
  • Artist and photographer Jetsonorama wheat-pasted an image of Radmilla Cody from her Miss Navajo days at the old Cow Springs Trading Post last summer.

    jetsonorama
  • Radmilla Cody at home on the Navajo Reservation.

    Diego James Robles
  • Cody visiting a school in Crownpoint during her reign.

    jetsonorama
  • Radmilla Cody's sister Jamie.

    Diego James Robles
  • Radmilla Cody's mother Margaret.

    Diego James Robles
  • Radmilla Cody's grandmother Dorothy with Radmilla, whom she raised in the Navajo way.

    Diego James Robles
  • Radmilla Cody in a field on the Navajo Nation

    Diego James Robles
 

Grand Falls, Arizona
Radmilla Cody knows the way home. It's not an easy journey. The dirt roads are canoe-shaped and gouged by rain. They curl around hills and plunge into deep draws, finally bringing us to the family homestead near Grand Falls, on the Navajo Reservation.

Cody grew up on these lonesome sage flats. Her Navajo mother, Margaret, took off to Georgia shortly after giving birth to Cody at age 18. Her father, Troy Davis, was a 43-year-old black man who worked as a driver for a Ford dealer in Flagstaff. Her grandmother, Dorothy, raised her the Navajo way.

Out here, without running water or electricity, Cody learned rug-weaving and sheepherding, and began to sing -- first to the sheep in the corrals, then, at the age of 7, in her grandmother's Christian church. In junior high, at Leupp Boarding School, she decided to make a career of it, influenced by her Uncle Herman, a musician, and her grandfather, Archie Cody, a medicine man.

She needed all her Navajo skills to win the title of Miss Navajo in 1997, at age 22 -- the reservation's first bi-racial beauty queen. Then her life took a sharp downward turn. She became entangled in an abusive relationship with a drug dealer and ended up in federal prison.

In 2004, after her release, she came back here for a ceremony to cleanse her spirit of that painful experience, seeking to free herself from the shadow of domestic violence. Now, she's back again, on this overcast morning in July, to touch her roots and share her story with a journalist. Some of the talk is about a recently completed documentary titled Hearing Radmilla, made by Angela Webb, a substitute teacher in Burbank, Calif. It takes a tough-minded look at Navajo racism and Cody's personal struggle.

"I have to keep moving forward," Cody says, "because that's how change happens."

On the front porch, we wade through chickens to reach Cody's grandmother's kitchen, where Cody begins making a Navajo breakfast (heavy on bacon), dressed in Nike running shorts and a sleeveless blouse, her hair tied back.

The arrival of a half-black baby didn't sit well with some in her family, Cody recalls. They warned that she'd be an outcast and a source of shame to her family, never accepted or loved on a reservation where, at least for some, old ideas still held. Classmates tormented her, pushing her to tears, and even some of her uncles echoed the treatment.

"It came out when they were drunk," she says. "I remember sitting at the table and Uncle Elmer hitting me on the head with a spoon and calling me a black pig."

In the film, recalling how he treated his baby niece, her Uncle Marcus says: "This is what I thought: 'What's this fucking n--- doing here?' "

High Country News Classifieds
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Utah's largest conservation organization, has an immediate opening in its Salt Lake City office for a staff attorney. SUWA's...
  • DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST
    Idaho Walk Bike Alliance seeks a lover of bicycling, walking, and all modes of active transportation who willingly puts the car in the garage and...
  • COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Friends of Inyo - the Communications Director is a full-time permanent position that reports to the Executive Director and utilizes communication strategies and production skills...
  • INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS EDITOR
    High Country News seeks an editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk. This individual will lead a team of passionate journalists...
  • HIKING TO THE EDGE:
    Confronting Cancer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Poetry and photos on survival thinking. E-book and paperback available at Amazon.com.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • IPLC RIGHTS AND EQUITY PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FUTURE WEST
    Future West seeks an executive director to lead this dynamic organization into the future. Based in Bozeman, MT this well-respected nonprofit provides communities in the...
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR
    Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has been doing work you can believe in protecting the lands and waters that all life depends on....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.