Miami University graduate Mika Leonard was recently selected as the Cherry Blossom Princess representing the state of Oklahoma beginning April 4. She was appointed the position at The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. Bobbe Burke, coordinator of the Miami Tribe affairs, said Leonard is just one example of a talented alumna.
“It’s wonderful when we have alumni doing interesting things,” Burke said. “She’s (Mika Leonard) really a go getter, looking around her and seeing more ways she can get involved and that’s what we hope you all can do, get more involved and be able to accomplish things. It’s a moment of pride for all of us.”
Leonard said she grew up in Oxford with a strong Native American upbringing and graduated from Talawanda High School in 2003. She then went to Miami, earning a Bachelor’s degree in linguistics. Her father Joseph, also a member of the Miami Tribe, taught at Miami. Her mother is of Japanese heritage. Mika said her grandfather was also a long time chief in the Miami Tribe until his death in 2008.
The festival commemorates the gift to the city of Washington of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo, Leonard said.
According to an Oklahoma State Society press release, since 1948 young women, also called “Cherry Blossom Princesses,” have been selected from their state societies to share their state’s rich culture, traditions and history with national and international visitors.
Leonard said when she was excited when asked to apply for the role “It sounded really cool,” Leonard said. “For a whole week you are doing all these different opportunities … it’s great networking. For my purpose, it’s a great way to talk to people about issues that Native Americans face.”
According to the Oklahoma press release, every spring a Cherry Blossom Princess from each state travels to the nation’s capitol to commemorate the gift of Japanese cherry trees. Originally designed to enhance the growing friendship between the United States and Japan, the gift also celebrates the continued close relationship between the two peoples. Leonard represents the Japanese heritage that brought the trees to Washington and the Oklahoma state her father’s tribe hails from.
“They are really excited because the Cherry Blossom Princess doesn’t have to be Japanese,” Leonard said. “I think it’s cool that they have a Japanese princess. Also Oklahoma didn’t have a lot of Indian representation. I think they are happy the person representing them is also a member of the Miami Tribe.”
Princesses participate in education, leadership and cultural activities representing their respective state and the nation.
According to Leonard, applicants can range from ages 16 to 25, and cannot be married or have children. Leonard considered applying for this position when she was informed Oklahoma did not have a representative for the state. Since the Miami Tribe is a federally recognized tribe in the state of Oklahoma, Leonard said it was a great opportunity to represent her heritage. Leonard said the festival is not traditonal.
“It is not a beauty pageant, no talents,” Leonard said. “Completely arbitrary, something fun. A really nice festival for the people of D.C. … it’s a feel-good thing.”
Leonard currently works at the U.S. Department of Interior, in Washington, D.C. as a program specialist for the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs on Economic Development and Education issues. Leonard holds the issues of Indians close to her heart; it was one of her main reasons for applying to be the Cherry Blossom Princess.
“It elevates an awareness about the tribe, to get their name known, getting the work out there is a positive thing,” Leonard said.