January 24, 2023

By Haley Dittbrenner ’25

The Susquehanna University community opened the spring 2023 semester at its annual Winter Convocation. Activist and former Miss Native American USA Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua Williams engaged an audience of students, faculty and staff with her message on justice and belonging.

Miskweminanocsqua Williams was born and raised on the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton, New York. Being immersed in her culture from birth has given her pride in her Black and Indigenous heritage and is the foundation for her activism today.

“The Shinnecock people are here today because we see the value in every one of our community members,” she said.

Miskweminanocsqua Williams described the stereotypes, erasure and mockery Indigenous people face today, drawing on her lived experience. Having grown up without Indigenous representation in the media, Miskweminanocsqua Williams combats this pain through advocacy.

“If I didn’t see my representation, I was going to be it,” she said.

Miskweminanocsqua Williams did this by entering pageants, and later, plus-size modeling. She was crowned Miss Native America USA in 2017. After this win, she met with tribal leaders across the United States, celebrating both the commonalities and divergences in their cultures. Her full-circle moment came when a young girl claimed that Miskweminanocsqua Williams was the only person who looked like her in the pageanting world. The young girl drew hope just from seeing Miskweminanocsqua Williams on stage.

“I became the representation I desperately needed as a young girl,” she said.

Miskweminanocsqua Williams emphasized the importance of bridging understanding and conversations of healing. Drawing on the work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, she described change as a constant movement of resistance. This came with a dual message of self-love and using one’s unique talents to better themselves and the lives of others, especially those from marginalized communities.

“Advocacy can be as simple as having a conversation with someone,” she said. “Tell the story that represents your people. Tell the story that represents you.”

The lecture was well received by the Susquehanna community, who gathered in Weber Chapel Auditorium.

“As someone who’s been looking into Indigenous advocacy a lot, and as someone of privilege, I see lots of allies who try to make it about themselves,” said Laurel Barnes ’25. “It’s about representation — we don’t need to speak for Indigenous people, we need to make room for them. Having Miskweminanocsqua Williams speak today is a sign of a step forward.”

Winter Convocation is the first event in Susquehanna University’s annual MLK Week, which honors the legacy of the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Other events include the Day of Teaching, Days of Service and an interfaith service in February.