Twenty-five year old Soni Clifford the reigning Miss Rodeo South Dakota from Rockyford, SD is articulate about her pursuit and journey heading into the Miss Rodeo America pageant. She grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with her parents and siblings. Education is essential to her family, both her parents are teachers, and she pursued higher education before entering her first queen contest.
Clifford is attending Black Hills State University on a Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship. She has just four classes left for her bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing. This past year Clifford took a break to focus on being Miss Rodeo South Dakota. She wants other girls to realize the scholarship opportunities in rodeo queen pageants.
Las Vegas holds a special place in her heart. The past three years she’s been a Flag Girl at the National Finals Rodeo. In 2013, she entered her first rodeo pageant and won the Miss Indian Rodeo title in Las Vegas. She spent a year traveling the country and Canada visiting different reservations and tribes. “I wanted to run first, (for Miss Indian Rodeo) because it represented my culture,” she stated. Clifford acknowledges being a rodeo queen for her is about understanding the production, marketing and the process of producing rodeos. Serving as a Flag Girl was an experience of behind the scenes production 101 for the WNFR. She remembers being a pivot girl and the moving experience she felt when Miss Rodeo America was introduced to the Thomas & Mack audience with the song introduction “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls,”
Miss Rodeo America represents rodeo and everyone, Clifford explained. “I grew up with a multicultural background. I’m Oglala Lakota, French, Irish and Mexican culturally mixed.” Clifford further explained while Miss Rodeo America pageant alumni have had Native American heritage she is the first, “enrolled in a federally recognized tribe.” Pine Ridge is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States.
Clifford admits a lot of youth don’t have a lot of hope on her reservation and expectations aren’t positive or high. Becoming Miss Rodeo South Dakota provided hope to younger girls looking up to her. “There is hope on a reservation. I want to help young Native American girls have a better future,” she explained. Clifford is leading by example and plans to continue encouraging Native American girls to pursue rodeo pageants for years to come.