When I first talked with Alyssa London –the first Tlingit woman crowned Miss Alaska– it’s the day after the Miss USA competition. I tell her how I watched her on tv with no distractions, and how I even teared up when she walked out on stage in her custom gown that featured her Tlingit culture for all to see. She was beyond to humbled to hear and see how much support she had from different Native communities all over the country. London was even more gratified to know that despite not winning the ultimate title of Miss USA, she was a positive role model like the ones she used to watch on tv years before.
It’s been years in the making since she’s set out to inspire and empower others. She participated in her first pageant when she was only 17 years old, where she wore a traditional Tlingit robe. She’s a successful media personality and an entrepreneur who’s goal is to promote Native-owned businesses. London also knew it’d take hard work and determination to get to the pageant, which didn’t deter her at all. I wanted to get to know this amazing woman, who saw the Miss Alaska pageant as a platform to make a difference, who used her time in the spotlight to bring attention to a little part of her home community.
London is an enrolled member of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and is of the Eagle moiety and Killerwhale clan. London’s Tlingit name is Yáx̱ Ádi Yádi which means “precious child”, and was given to her by the late tribal leader Clarence Jackson.
A graduate of Stanford University, London is a business entrepreneur, motivational speaker and media personality who’s devoted herself to the culture, art, and economic development of indigenous people. She’s founded Our Culture Story, a business that brings awareness to the vitality of Alaska Native cultures through storytelling and selling artisan pieces. London is also a Cultural Ambassador for, a shareholder and former Sealaska Board Youth Advisor at Sealaska Heritage Institute.
London competed in her first pageant when she was just 17 years old. “It was Miss Seafair,” she explains. “At that pageant, I wore a Tlingit robe with killer whales on it and drummed the Eagle Raven love song for the talent portion.”
London always had admiration for the Miss America and Miss USA competitions and kept up with the pageants every year, even when she was attending college at Stanford University. “I admired the women who competed for their poise and confidence. I dreamed of being on the national stage one day so to inspire other young women just like they inspired me to be confident, dream big and work hard as you strive to realize them!”
After college, London competed in three pageants in the Miss America local system, where she met friends who she supported when they competed on the national stage. “Just about a year ago, I was in Vegas to support my friend Kelsey Schmidt as she competed at Miss USA 2016 as Miss Washington 2016,” London says.
It was the fact that the Miss Universe organization changed their age limit from 27 years of age to 28, that gave London the motivation to finally compete at the highest level. “The Miss Universe organization announced they increased the age limit by one year and that made me eligible to compete in their system for the first and only time.”
In February of this year, London competed in the Miss Alaska 2017 competition, where she won and ended up being the first Tlingit to ever to hold the title. “It was a dream come true,” London says of being crowned Miss Alaska. She then admits that being in the top ten of the Miss USA 2017 was a dream realized even further. “I became one of the girls that I grew up watching on tv.”
For some pageant queens, preparation starts the first week of the Miss USA competition, but for London, she began preparing every day from the moment she was crowned Miss Alaska on February 4th. “I trained every day with CBTraining Online. I worked with a runway coach in New York and a pageant interview coach in Seattle.” She then linked up with Los Angeles-based gown designer Joey Galon, who designed her interview red jumpsuit, and eye-catching evening gown. “I fundraised within my community to cover the costs.” I guess you can say it takes a village.
Admittingly, everyone supporting Miss Alaska were on the edge of their seats (myself included!) when the last spot of the top 10 advancing to the ultimate title was about to be announced. London was excited and grateful when “Alaska” was called. “I was so excited. I’ll never forget that moment. My train of thought was, ‘Yes! This is amazing! I’m so grateful!'”
One thing noticeable about London taking the national stage was how calm and flawless she was. “I meditated using the Calm app every day at the pageant and multiple times the day of the pageant. I felt prepared and had rehearsed and practiced my performance and what I would want to say at different points of the competition.” London explained that in her experience, practice and positive self-affirmations take away nerves. “If you can keep a positive mindset it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”
One thing notable about this year’s pageant that many took away was how diverse this year’s competition was, with 9 women of color in the top 10. With the diversity in the top ten, the Miss Universe Organization and their parent IMG/WME organization made a statement that beauty comes in so many shapes, sizes, and shades. “It is tremendous because it changes the ideals of beauty and allows other girls to see their own appearance reflected in the diverse faces that were on stage that evening.” London herself added, even more, diversity to the pageant with her one-of-a-kind dress. “The Miss Universe Organization’s team really liked that my gown was unique and had a story behind it. I think it helped me stand out and show confidence because I doing something different.”
At first, London didn’t realize the amount of support she had, but the overwhelming feedback and positive comments she received, saw and felt from around Indian Country were amazing. “It felt incredible. I am so grateful for the support of not only Alaska but Indian Country. While reading all the comments and seeing the support online, I felt a lot of love and that my expression of my pride in my heritage and identity as a Tlingit woman was inspiring others and making an impact.” London now has so much gratitude towards the Native community and appreciation for the support, which inspires her even more to become a voice for change.
London has certainly come full circle, from her first experience competing in a smaller pageant with her traditional Tlingit killer whale robe to her breathtaking gown that showcased her Tlingit culture with a crystallized killer whale on national tv. “I have grown so much through this experience and met more amazing women and I know we will continue to inspire and lift each other up years into the future.” The experience as a whole continues to inspire and motivate London. “This experience gave me, even more, drive to shoot for the stars because why not?! Someone is going to do it, why not you?! My parents taught me at a young age that the world is your oyster and I live by that mentality.”
When I shared my story of how I once wanted to compete in Miss Teen South Dakota but didn’t feel confident or good enough, London sighed with encouragement. I then asked what would she tell other Native young women or girls who’d want to compete in a pageant but is hesitant. “My advice is, go for it! Pursue your dreams whether it’s to be in a pageant, or to become a lawyer or appear on a TV show, just try anything you feel drawn to! Nothing will happen in life unless you try and even if the outcome isn’t exactly what you wanted, you will have learned and grown from the experience. You are beautiful, you are smart and no one can stop you. You are more gorgeous than one perceived definition of beauty, so show the world your inner and outer beauty. The world and your community is cheering you on and wants to see you be confident and shine because that’s what’s beautiful!”
When asked about what her next steps are, London said she’s going to continue to use her platform for the good, but of course after a much-needed breather. “After some rest and relaxation as this has been a hectic and amazing whirlwind of a few months leading up to Miss USA, I am going to continue to encourage women to pursue entrepreneurship to achieve self-sufficiency and independence.” London will also continue to showcase her pride for her culture as a Tlingit woman in hope that it continues to inspire others to embrace their heritage and diversity as well. “Furthermore, I’ll talk to youth about the importance of education and how it can open many doors for them as they live a life pursuing their passions.”
Behind the scenes of London at the Miss USA competition: