Native American roots provide strength for local Miss USA hopeful

Over four and a half million viewers are expected to tune into the Miss USA pageant on NBC this Sunday night at 8:00.

A lot of local fans will be watching for Mekayla Diehl from Bristol.

This former Elkhart County Fair queen has made it all the way to the big stage, and her chances are really good.

If she wins, she'll be the first Miss USA from Indiana, and the first Native American too!

As we found out during a recent visit, our Miss Indiana has a special place in Michigan, and Canada too.

The party's set for Sunday night at Zimmy's in Union, Michigan.

"We have several people from the neighborhood," says Susan Diehl, Mekayla's aunt. "We have the whole neighborhood party coming here to Zimmy's to watch Mekayla."

They're her biggest fans, and they know her the best.

"We've been around Mekayla since the day she was born," says family friend Betsy Carmean. "She is our family."

"She's our local celebrity, and we're just really proud of her," adds Kena Keller.

Zimmyville is the perfect spot. It's where Mekayla loves to go to meet up with friends and family. Mekayla's father and younger brother Chip will be there -- right after his high school graduation on Sunday.

"If they're looking for a real, true person, she's as real as it comes," Chip says.

"I wouldn't have been able to do it without the help of not only local sponsors, but family friends, family, and my extended family," Mekayla admits. "Everybody helped in some way."

They were there when they were needed most.

When Mekayla was eight years old, she was sexually abused by a family friend. Her parents, both drug users at the time, didn't give her the support she needed.

"It was very dysfunctional," Mekayla admits. "That's a good way to put my family."

Mekayla's grandmother and several friends stepped up to help.

"We stuck together," explains friend Erin Eggleston. "We helped each other through it. A lot of how we got out of that negativity is we invested ourselves in sports, dance, and other fun activities. We were a team. We were inseparable, and we just had fun."

"A family is a gathering of people who love and support each other no matter what, and that's exactly what I had, and I had to realize that I had a family," Mekayla explains. "Just because it wasn't a mom and a dad doesn't mean it wasn't family."

Mekayla's mom, Melinda Sampson, now lives on a reservation in Canada.

"Learning my culture has really helped me in my journey to recovery," she explains. "Finding out who I am and remembering what is important in my life."

In turn, it's helped Mekayla claim her history too, as a member of the Zhiibaahaasing First Nation of the Odawa Tribe.

"I am a status Native. Meaning I have government documentation that I am Native American," Mekayla explains.

During a recent visit to the reservation, Mekayla was given her spirit name.

"I am Gmewin Kwe, which means 'rain woman.' Gmewin Kwe."

Her parents have turned their lives around. They're thankful for the power of forgiveness and the love of family.

"I'm very happy that I am able to, and Mekayla is also able to, speak on these issues and help families that are being broke down by drugs and alcohol," Melinda explains.

And she's proud to have Mekayla represent her people.

"I think it's wonderful that Mekayla is representing our native heritage, our culture," Melinda says.

"I'm proud to represent them on the national level as well. I'm the first Native American Miss Indiana USA, and if crowned in June I'll be the first Native American Miss USA."

The watch party / graduation party starts Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Zimmy's, and anybody is welcome to drop by.

The pageant broadcast on NBC begins at 8:00 p.m., and during the show, viewers can vote for their favorite contestant.

If you have a valid Twitter account, you can tweet a vote using the hashtag #savethequeen.

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