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Representation: OSU’s Miss American Indian speaks about mental health

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Miss American Indian OSU was crowned Oct. 23, and this year’s winner has made steps in helping the Native American community throughout her life. 

Kaitlyn Pinkerton has been a goodwill ambassador for the Cherokee Nation in the past, where she has gotten to go to sing with the Cherokee National Youth Choir in the White House and The National Museum of the American Indian. Through this, she has been able to spread the culture and history of her tribe. 

Although no one competed against Pinkerton in this pageant, she said in other pageants she has used the same platform. Platforms are required to participate in pageants, and Pinkerton’s is eradicating the stigma of mental illness in Native Youth. 

Over 827 thousand Native Americans have reported having a mental illness in the past year, and are over two times more likely to report psychological stress over the general public, according to Mental Health America. Pinkerton’s hope is to use her platform to help reduce these numbers as much as she can.

“I just try to spread awareness that it’s OK to not be OK,” Pinkerton said.

Pinkerton has been taught how to interact with her friends with mental illness and pushes others to learn how to do so as well. During the pandemic, she put together mental health care packages for the Indigenous students at her high school and gave those students resources if needed. 

In light of Native American Heritage Month, Pinkerton said it is important for everyone to acknowledge the tribes. She said representation is not as few and far between as it used to be, but the general population could still be better.

Pinkerton said some people still ask if she lives in a teepee or if she has ever used a phone.

“There’s still very much racism that is alive and well,” Pinkerton said. “Specifically, against Native Americans.”

To show as much consideration to the Native population as possible, Pinkerton said, it is important to be as educated as possible regarding different cultures. She said the Native American Student Association (NASA) on campus welcomes everyone, not only Native American students to attend meetings.

Native American Heritage month is important to Pinkerton because of the opportunity she and other Indigenous students have to celebrate their culture. 

“It means a lot because it’s kind of honoring my past, my present, my future, and everyone around me,” Pinkerton said. “It gives a lot of representation to a very underrepresented minority.”