The seventh generation principle, considering what the seven generations before you did resulting in where you are in life and what your actions will mean for the seventh generation after you, proved to be a powerful motivator in activist Autumn Rose Williams, as she shared during her visit for our Indigenous Peoples’ Day assembly on October 13, 2022. Reflecting on the experiences of the previous seven generations of her Shinnecock Nation ancestors, their persistence and survival against dismaying odds, led her to run for Miss Teen Shinnecock and Miss Native American USA, attend Virginia Commonwealth University, and sign on as a plus-size model, all with the goal to improve Indigenous representation and educate others about the richness of Indigenous cultures.
These experiences took Williams outside her close-knit reservation in Southampton, New York, for the first time. The biggest culture shock for her, she said, was the jarring and disheartening realization that her fellow students considered Indigenous history to be in the past and had no knowledge of modern Native life.
In sharing her poetry and personal story during an impassioned assembly with our community, Williams encouraged students to consider how their actions would impact future generations. Building on the seventh generation principle, she asked that they ponder their own power and ability to create change, acknowledging that once she recognized her fire within, tapping into her fearlessness (manowesas in Shinnecock language, Williams shared), empowerment, self-love, and self-worth, she was able to affect change herself.
Williams challenged students to consider cultural appropriation and the debate surrounding Native names and imagery for entertainment through an Indigenous lens. In her poem “Halloween,” Williams responds to the oft-used justification that these cultural references are intended to show respect., “If honored and respected, you’d know that we aren’t all the same./ Our language, culture, and traditions are as versatile as my people’s faces.”
As her parting message, Williams reflected upon her culture’s belief that each person plays an integral role within the community. “Every one of us has our thing to do to contribute to society, she said/ “Everyone has a role and it’s up to you to figure out what it is.” Armed with the insights from her inspiring talk and question-and-answer session, Pingree community members came away from the event prepared for the task.