Ancient Voices

A Museum to honor the least known people in North America, the Original Tribal Women

Vanessa Short Bull

First Native American Miss South Dakota
Comedian, Volunteer with Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Vanessa is Oglala Sioux, born to Tom and Darlene Short Bull, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation December 30, 1978.
Vanessa is a direct descendent of Sioux leaders, including Red Cloud, Little Wound, and Young Man Afraid of Horses.
Her father is a former state senator and current president of Oglala Lakota College. Her grandmother Zona was actually the first person on the reservation to have a car, and as Vanessa said 'That's amazing!"

Although she moved off the Pine Ridge when she was six. Vanessa still attributes her determination to win as well as her political outspokenness to her grandmothers. She does not want to be known as 'The Native American, Miss South Dakota' just Miss South Dakota, Of course she is known predominantly for her title, but people who know her see a different story they recognise a humble young woman, who cares, and who is a fine role-model for today's young girls, Indian or not.

Please read the articles below to find out more about Vanessa Short Bull and I am sure that you will feel the same way, this young woman is a credit to not just Pine Ridge, or South Dakota but to America as a whole. She is a woman of today, and when she was at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City she expressed the following quite famous quote, 'I hope that, whoever the title goes to, all the women would be judged "on the content of their character, and not on the color of their skin" '

This article by Jim Kent, 18 Sep 2002

When 51 young women from across the U.S. take the stage for the Miss America Pageant Saturday, September 21, one will be breaking a barrier. It's not because Vanessa Short Bull is Native American. There have been other American Indian women who've competed in the pageant and one, Norma Smallwood, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, became Miss America in 1926. What makes Miss Short Bull's presence on that stage significant is that she's the first Native American to hold the title of Miss South Dakota, a western state with a reputation particularly among Native people for being discriminatory toward Indians.

Vanessa Short Bull began her road to the Miss America Pageant as a senior in high school. She says her government studies teacher suggested that she try out for the Junior Miss South Dakota pageant because of her beauty, her poise, her sense of humor and her talent.

Ten years of ballet classes and a stint at New York City's Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre paid off for Miss Short Bull, she won the talent category for Junior Miss South Dakota. But it took several tries before she became Miss South Dakota. She attributes her determination to win as well as her political outspokenness to her grandmothers.

"I look at my grandmothers and just the way they led their lives. My grandmother Zona was actually the first person on the reservation to have a car...and that's amazing," she explain. " Because most people would assume that, hey, why in, what was that 1920 something - that, I mean, she had a job, she was supporting her family and she had a car, and most people wouldn't assume that a woman would do that. So I look to them, and being outspoken and speaking for your people, I think they're the true feminists."

Vanessa Short Bull also comes from a line of strong men, counting the legendary Lakota leaders Red Cloud and Short Bull among her ancestors. Her father, Tom Shortbull, is a former state senator and current president of Oglala Lakota College. Although Miss Short Bull hasn't lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation since she was six, this down-to-earth beauty queen says she's well aware of the problems faced by her people especially Lakota Sioux women.

"I go around the reservation seeing these most beautiful Indian girls, and they're not confident. When I see this it just breaks my heart because these are natural beauties and they should be proud of what they look like," she admits. "And I think that's because when they look in the magazines on newsstands, they aren't the blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauties. I just want to show them that, hey, if I can do it you more than certainly can do it. I really do think that Indian women are the most unique looking people, their facial features. And it's just sad not to see them not being confident in that. And hopefully, being in Miss America and showing them that you can be confident in your own skin, that's something I can give to them and hopefully I can see more Indian women pursuing being Miss South Dakota or going into the Miss USA system, just to be out there."

For Lakota Sioux on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Vanessa Short Bull's reign as Miss South Dakota will provide an opportunity for the world to see a beautiful Native woman and to learn that American Indians share many of the same values as other Americans.

"It's giving her a chance to not only represent the women of South Dakota, but also the Native women of South Dakota. We may not be rich, money-wise, but we have a lot of rich talents, rich culture and that, you know, we're genuine people," said one woman.

"You know, she's probably one of the most successful girls on the reservation, to actually be in that position," said another. " Like, she's not scared to do what she looks forward to doing, and like nothing else gets at her and she's just going out there and doing what she wants to do. I like that about her."

In spite of these accolades, Vanessa Short Bull remains humble. She says that winning beauty pageants has merely changed her from an "ugly duckling" into a more confident duck. And she adds that the last thing she wants to be seen as is an "American Indian" beauty queen.

"I don't want to sell people on the fact that I'm Indian. That's something that's just part of me. I don't have to go out and force-feed people, you know, be aware I'm Indian," she says. " I think people, when they see me, are going to say, 'Well, of course she's Indian. Her last name's Short Bull, she's got features...' and I want people to see me for who I am and not for the fact that I'm the first Native American Miss South Dakota."

That seems to be happening. In a state whose residents are frequently viewed as discriminatory by tribal members, the first Native American Miss South Dakota is not drawing controversy.

"I don't think it's a big deal. I don't think it's any different than having someone who's German, Italian, whatever nationality they are. We don't think it's that rare," said one local.

However, the fact that it's taken so long for an Indian to win the state title is not lost on other South Dakotans.

"I've never thought of a person of a different race winning the Miss South Dakota title," said one woman. "I'm happy that a Native American is representing us."

Comments like that don't surprise Tom and Darlene Shortbull, who say they look forward to their daughter's contributions to improved race relations in the state.

"The whole issue of improved race relations has to be enhanced when we as Indian people go out there and accomplish things," Mr. Short Bull says. "As Vanessa said, there's been a stereotype in South Dakota that we're lazy Indians, we don't accomplish much. I think she's a positive role model as other people are in this state, who go on to be doctors and lawyers and things like that. And so when I think the non-Indian population sees us in a more positive light, that's got to have a positive impact. "

"It's America. I mean, this is the American dream for Vanessa and for us," adds Mr. Short Bull. "I think it's a positive image that everybody really, really needs to see, as far as Indian Country. Because I think we are so caught up in our problems, right on the reservation, that we never see further, you know, what can happen outside of the reservation. And certainly Vanessa's doing it. She's out there showing people, here we are we're Indians."

Just as her grandmother was the first person on Pine Ridge to own a car Vanessa Short Bull would also like to be a 'first' - the first Indian woman from her state to become Miss America. Her platform calls for political awareness and participation. And while she stresses that it's imperative for American Indians to get out and vote, she says she'd like to see everyone in the country take part in the political process.

"It's just important that people get out and vote. It's so important," she stresses. "People around here don't remember our grandparents who fought in World War II, who fought for the freedoms that we enjoy but, yet, we're not partaking in it. And one of the greatest freedoms that we have is the right to vote. I want to show people that yes, I am Indian, but I still have the same ideals and values as everyone else. It's Miss America, we are trying to find things that unite us all and that we all are the same."

RAPID CITY -- When Vanessa Shortbull heard her name called as 2002 Miss South Dakota, she felt more relief than elation. "They were taking forever," she said. "It was like a really long drum roll."

Shortbull, like most pageant contestants, had competed before in the Miss South Dakota pageant. This was her fifth year and the last year she was eligible. "Even before they called my name, I knew that I had come this year and knew I was really ready to take on the challenge," she said this week.

Shortbull, 23, is the fourth Rapid City woman to win the pageant, and the first since 1996. No Miss South Dakota has ever won the Miss America pageant. Miss South Dakota 1950, Irene O'Connor, came the closest, finishing as first runner-up. Miss South Dakota is more than a title. With that title comes role-model status. Shortbull said she knows that. She accepts the responsibility.

When she steps onto the stage in front of millions of worldwide television viewers at the Miss America pageant in September - she says she's not nervous - Shortbull will be the first American Indian to represent South Dakota. "I take a lot of pride in (being the first Indian Miss South Dakota)," she said. "It shows the changing times in South Dakota."

She believes she can use her position to make a connection with American Indians and show them that things can be accomplished off the reservation...

Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law ( ).
All copyrights belong to original publisher

Vanessa on the cover of Andrea Modica's new book, "Real Indians," that also includes a set of interviews edited by Rebecca Carroll.

Look at Vanessa Shortbull, ballerina, pre-law student, political activist, Miss South Dakota 2002 and fledgling comedian, whose tutu-clad form graces the cover of the coffee-table tome.

Shortbull started her college career at the University of Utah as a dance performance major, then switched to the tribal Oglala Lakota College in South Dakota, where she grew up. Her father, Tom Shortbull, is president of Oglala Lakota, whose campuses are scattered over an area larger than Connecticut.

"Going to a school that was predominantly white, I'd hear negative comments about Indian people," said Shortbull, now studying for a master's in public administration at the University of South Dakota.

Students at USD have grown accustomed to seeing Vanessa Shortbull on campus. The people of Atlantic City, N.J. will also have the pleasure of seeing her as she competes for the title of Miss America, 2002.

Shortbull, a student at USD and the reigning Miss South Dakota, began pageant competition on Sept. 17 which will last through three nights of preliminary competitions in swimsuit, evening gown, talent and interview. The final night will be aired nationally on Sept. 21.

Shortbull said the competition in Atlantic City has the same format as the Miss South Dakota pageant on a much grander scale, calling it "the Super Bowl of pageants."

Shortbull began her pageant career as a senior in high school when she competed in and won the South Dakota Junior Miss pageant.

In addition, Shortbull has competed five times at the Miss South Dakota Pageant. She has been second runner-up twice and a semifinalist twice before winning the title of Miss South Dakota. She was also Miss South Dakota USA in 2000.

Shortbull believes competing in pageants has increased her awareness of social issues, improved her speaking skills and helped her become more well rounded and articulate through the interview competition of the pageant. She has also gained confidence and poise.

In addition to the interview, the talent competition makes up a large portion of the scoring at the pageant. Shortbull's talent is a ballet Pointe dance to the piece "Dying Swan."

Vanessa expressed hope that, whoever the title went to, all the women would be judged "on the content of their character, and not on the color of their skin"

The student also says she wants to use her appearance in the pageant to help encourage Americans, especially those from minorities, to vote.


2002 - Comedians aren't especially known for their good looks, but in America one up-and-coming stand-up has been crowned as a beauty queen. Vanessa Shortbull is the reigning Miss South Dakota, and is also the winner of the 2002 Four Directions Talent Search, sponsored by the Oneida Nation and NBC. She is a returning performer at Sky City Casino

A Native American showcase featuring seven of Indian Country's most prominent comedians will be the highlight this weekend at Sky City Casino, as the Emergence Performance Series continues.

Aspiring comedian Vanessa Shortbull describes what the audience can expect. Shortbull says, "I think it's our turn to get out into the spotlight and kinda show what native humor is because I think there is a huge misconception of Indian people. We are very easy going, love to laugh type of people. We're not a stoic type of Dances with Wolves characters".

Vanessa, an Oglala Lakota College student and beauty pageant winner, fantasized about a Miss Rez beauty contest. "My talent is bingo and cutting commodity cheese."

And although she is a stand-up, having won a talent search for 'first nationers' backed by TV network NBC, her talent at the beauty contests wasn't comedy - but ballet.

From the 'Morning Star Community Theatre'

Vanessa Shortbull appears as the Beautiful Butterfly Woman. Vanessa was Miss South Dakota 2002 and graciously agreed to appear in our show two weeks before the Miss American Pagent.

She did the most beautiful ballet dance to Alecia Keys "Butterflyz", in a darkened theatre with moonlight streaming across the stage, and stars dancing around the auditorium. Her dance symbolized the awakening of love and forgiveness in Will's heart, as he begins to find his true self and true purpose in life.

Vanessa is still volunteering in our community, she recently appeared in a production of "Nutcracker" at Christmas time, working with kids from the Boy's and Girl's club.

Thank you Vanessa, we love you!
More ballet, more ballet, please!

More Volunteer work from Vanessa

South Dakota Chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

Rapid City resident Vanessa Shortbull argued for the Native American Advisory Council with foundation leaders during one her training trips to Dallas. Her dream became a reality April 20 when the foundation announced the formation of the Native American National Advisory Council.

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