Gurney's Inn
September 06, 2017

Connecting To Culture, Embracing Empowerment

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Her own journey, her own life path serve as the foundation for Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua (Raspberry Star Woman) Williams's winning platform. A member of the Shinnecock Nation, the Southampton native was crowned Miss Native American USA last month at a pageant held in Mesa, Arizona.

She's the first member of a Northeast tribe to win the acclaim, and on Friday night, led the grand entry at the annual pow wow on the Shinnecock Reservation.

"I was super excited to lead grand entry," she said Saturday morning. "It was amazing." Having won the competition, it was especially heartening to debut the title in her own hometown. The tribe, Shinnecock businesses, and the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk sponsored Williams's pageant participation.

Duties include making appearances and meeting members of tribes across the country. Williams will focus on promoting indigenous women's empowerment, with attention to connection to cultural identity and encouraging others.

A graduate of the Ross School, Williams said she never really experienced questions about her identity until she left her community. As a biracial person, confronting racism by outsiders, plus Native Americans and African Americans, she said, "empowered me more and made me proud."

"When I met people from all different cultures, when I talked to them, identity was such a big thing." She chose to focus on identity and empowerment "because of my own journey, " Williams said.

Also vital, she said, is becoming connected to one's culture. "As indigenous people, that's very important to us," she said. Williams was surprised to learn how the Shinnecock were connected to water. She didn't realize how strong that connection was until she travelled to a place where she wasn't connected to water.

As she tours the country throughout the coming year, Williams said, "I'm eager to learn about what makes you connected to your culture and how is that your strength." She wants to empower women, and especially young girls, to make the connection.

"Learning about the multitudes of indigenous communities is an important part of empowerment, unity and education. I felt that tonight and it was powerful," she said upon attaining the title. "I learned from each contestant and we all encouraged each other to do and be our best!"

Williams also wants to consider how indigenous people balance the two worlds – the culture of their Native American tribe and the culture of the USA. "The Ross School was a stark difference to the Shinnecock Reservation," she pointed out. "Maybe I didn't fit in, but I wasn't going to change to fit in."

Summarizing, Williams said, "All of these journeys I had in my own life, they pushed me and encouraged me. I want to teach other young women how to do that."

The 24 year-old pageant winner earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Mass Communications, with a concentration in Public Relations and a minor in Business from Virginia Commonwealth University. She currently works as the marketing and communications assistant at Peconic Land Trust, a non-profit organization that conserves Long Island's working farms, natural lands, and heritage for our communities now and in the future.

The Miss Native American USA organization's mission is to encourage Native American women to achieve their personal goals, build character, enhance self-esteem and develop leadership skills. The 6th anniversary of the Miss Native American USA Pageant had a total of seven contestants. Each contestant brought a new message and a diverse background. The contestants represented Native American women from across the country, including the Seminole Tribe, Navajo Nation, Hualapi Tribe, Inupiaq Tribe, and San Carlos Apache Tribe.

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