The last time I chatted with this year’s reigning Miss Native American USA Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua (Raspberry Star Woman) Williams (Shinnecock), it was a few months ago when she won the pageant. Since then she’s been on an adventure of a lifetime, from making appearances at conferences and events to walking at powwows and visiting Native communities. Williams humbly gives the ode to her title, as she admits that it helps motivate her to make moves and share stories of her Shinnecock heritage.
We caught up with Williams in between her many events, where she shared with us a few stories of her Shinnecock heritage and why you should explore your heritage.
Again, congratulations on winning this year’s Miss Native American USA title! When did you ultimately decide to compete in the Miss Native American USA Pageant?
While I was Miss Teen Shinnecock, I attended my first national pageant and once I saw that I wanted to someday in the future hold a national title. I learned about Miss Native American USA while I was in college and the more I researched the organization, the more and more I liked it! I decided while in college that I was going to run, but I had to get my degree first. I love to set goals, things to look forward to. Running in the pageant has been a goal of mine since college, I didn’t think I was going to win, but I’m happy I did.
What have you done so far since winning your title?
To me, not enough. [Laughs] But I’m hard on myself. Thus far I have walked in my tribe’s pow wow, which occurs every Labor Day weekend. I greeted northwest tribes at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City for their announcement to restore, update and conserve the historic northwestern coast section of the museum. That experience was beyond amazing. I appreciate the museum for letting us Natives take the lead. To let us greet each other and do things on our terms first. I also learned so much. It was firsthand knowledge at its best! I spoke at an event at the New School in New York City. I talked about my platform at the University of Denver in Colorado, and I’m heading to DC this week to speak at the Administration for Children and Families Native American Grantee Meeting.
Wow! You’re so busy! What does your upcoming schedule look like for you?
Busy [laughs]. I’m at the ACF Native American Grantee Meeting right now. When I get back home, I’ll be planning to go to Massachusetts for the Wampanoag tribe’s Thanksgiving festival. Something I have always wanted to attend. The Wampanoag tribe are the indigenous people that had the first Thanksgiving, and my tribe shares lots of similar qualities with that sister tribe. After, I’ll be heading back home and speaking at my tribe’s Thanksgiving festival.
I know when we last talked, you mentioned you wanted to help your people. Does your title of Miss Native American USA help you achieve that?
Yes, it does. I have met so many people in these few months, while having this title, and learn more and more about the different resources that are available to our community. The title also pushes me to do more. I would go without the title, but it’s just different. I’m working on college preparedness workshops with my people now because I truly believe education is power. Not saying everyone has to go to school, but it’s important to know what access you have to it, you know.
It’s Native American Heritage Month! How do you help preserve and celebrate your Shinnecock heritage?
Education! Oh my goodness, I’ve met so many people who just don’t know about our stories and how our presence is so significant. For example, for my job, I’m always connecting back to my tribal people because we are literally protecting my ancestral lands.
Could you share some stories of your Shinnecock heritage and people?
There’s so much I can say about my people. Shinnecock means ‘people of the Stoney Shores’ in the Shinnecock language, and I love that because it shows how expressive native languages are. I say that because the beaches along the Shinnecock Bay are very stone-y. The Shinnecock people were whalers, and we are very connected to the water. We were voyagers. Since I’ve been home from college, I’ve learned more about our people traveling to different Pacific islands, which I think is awesome! We are first contact people, which means we were one of the earliest tribes to come in contact with European settlers. It’s not necessarily a good thing due to the history and aspects of our culture we’ve lost. For example, we don’t have any fluent speakers, but we are in the process of bringing our language back. The kids in the preschool are learning how to count in Shinnecock and learning the different directions and colors in our language, something that wasn’t accessible to me growing up. Fortunately, we are a nation that’s still on our ancestral lands, despite being reduced to a smaller amount of land we traditionally occupied.
Do you think everyone in the world should take the time and discover their heritage?
Heck yes! I think the different cultures from all over the world are so interesting. I wouldn’t understand why someone would not want to learn more about their own. Also, from my personal experience, the more I learn about my heritage, the more proud I am of who I am, the more grounded I am in who I am. If anything I think understanding one’s heritage will open their eyes to the different cultures of the world, even if they don’t connect with their heritage.