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Danielle Ta'Sheena Finn first learned about the national pageant years ago from a billboard that proudly displayed the words "Home of the first Miss Indian World."

"I used to drive by that as a kid," she said of the sign on South Dakota's Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, which included a picture of Codi High Elk, the 1984-85 winner. "I always looked up to her. She made history."

Finn will have her own shot at making history this week as she looks to become the first woman from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to earn the title at the Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, N.M.

She competed in 2014 and came in as second runner-up. She did not enter last year, but opted to try again this year at age 25 before her eligibility expires.

The pageant will end April 30 after several days of competition. Finn and 23 other contestants will each start with an interview in front of several judges, who will ask cultural questions. Then, each will showcase a talent onstage in front of 2,000 people.

Finn chose a challenging activity two years ago. "I was shooting arrows onstage because the Lakota Sioux people are known for our archery skills," she said.

This year, she will share the story and song of the penny dress. Lakota women in the early 1900s used to wear such dresses to symbolize two worlds: Native and non-Native.

She's making her own dress adorned with 500 pennies. "It's quite heavy," she said.

Finn will also participate in a public speaking contest and a powwow dance, where she plans to perform a women's northern traditional dance in a buckskin dress.

The pageant coincides with final exams for the second-year law student, so Finn had to ask the dean of Arizona State University's law school to defer her exams. She's grateful he said yes.

Finn graduated from Century High School, having grown up in Bismarck and the Porcupine district on Standing Rock. At ASU, she is studying federal Indian law and tribal law.

Finn's Miss Indian World platform is threefold: suicide prevention, higher education and language preservation. If she is crowned the winner, she will promote her platform while making appearances at events throughout the country.

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(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8267 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)

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