The power of representation: VCU Alumna crowned Miss Native American

Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua Williams wants to use her position to effect change among indigenous women; photo courtesy of Williams.


Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua Williams wants to use her position to effect change among indigenous women; photo courtesy of Williams.

VCU alumna, Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua Williams was elected Miss Native American USA 2017, winning over six competitors for the title at the pageant in August. The 24-year-old was raised in and resides at the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Long Island, New York.
William said holding the title allows her to represent her tribe and her culture, often a stereotyped character minority in the eyes of Americans.

Competing in Miss Native American is not like competing in a traditional beauty pageant like the well-known Miss USA. Instead, the pageant is oriented toward measuring the connection a contestant has with her culture and community tested through an interview, talent exhibition, a two-minute speech about a specific platform they intend to act on as well as the common practice of an evening gown portion which is judged based on poise and confidence.

Williams’ platform is spreading the message of empowering indigenous women throughout Indian Country by focusing on their connection to the larger society and the ability to encourage one another.

“There is no set look on how a Native American should look,” Williams said. “However, media portrays Native Americans often in past tense, the images in films, shows, or newspapers are often showing Native Americans in traditional tribal wear, and almost never in contemporary clothing.”

Williams wants to change the common misconception of Native Americans by bringing awareness and empowering native beauty, which she said is often overlooked in the media.

“There’s a reason that Native Americans have a very romanticized look in the media,” said Williams. “The media wants you to think that we are not here anymore.”

If Native Americans don’t look like the stereotypical image of a people in tribal wear then it is easier to believe and say they don’t exist, Williams said.

The lack of a modern representation of a Native American in the media is one that has the power to translate into a tribe.

“The history of America is the fact that it’s colonized,” Williams said. “And there is a history between Native Americans who were forced into civilizations, so in 2017 when you talk about indigenous people and the standards of beauty they are standards put on us.”

Williams said traditionally she can’t say what these standards are, because she feels beautiful, but in regards to anyone in her tribe or another tribe and what they consider as beautiful does not have to do with the fact that they are Native American but instead what American society says is beautiful.

With her new title and platform Williams said she wants to show non-indigenous people that Native Americans are complex and that they are not what you see on TV.

Williams said Native American culture pageants are viewed as a way to empower indigenous beauty and culture by presenting it on a national scale. Winning the pageant allows Williams to travel to different tribes and take part in Pow Wows in order to facilitate conversation about what is happening in the various tribes and on various reservations throughout the country.

It’s clear that for Williams beauty pageants are as much about encouraging self-love and cultural pride as it is about encouraging understanding between Native Americans and non-Native Americans, as well as the various Native American tribes.

Keyris Manzanares, Staff Writer


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