Lily Painter is using her beauty queen title to advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and people.

Lily Painter, who hails from the Kiowa and Winnebago tribes, is currently the reigning Miss Indian Oklahoma. She's using her beauty queen title to bring awareness and to advocate for missing Indigenous women who are victims of sexual violence.

Video Transcript

LILY PAINTER: I wear Native American clothing everywhere, all the time. I honestly feel wrong if I'm not wearing anything big in my ears, or beaded. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Hello. My name is Brings Water From The River. My English name is Lily Painter. And I'm from the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma and the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska. I am the founder of Matriarch Medicine. And I am the current reigning Miss Indian, Oklahoma.


Miss Indian Oklahoma acts as a goodwill ambassador for the 39 sovereign nations that exist in Oklahoma. So I represent all 39 tribes, including my own, the Kiowa tribe. I speak at conferences. I go to our traditional dances. I go to conventions. Wherever they need me, I go, making sure that we're giving a seat at the table.

That was actually my second time trying for Miss Indian, Oklahoma. My first ever pageant was the year before. I went on stage, was a little bit nervous, and I got first runner up. Came back the next year, and I won. So it was really cool. My talent was storytelling. I really wanted to go up there and exude what we know about Native people, which is that we're the original storytellers.

And there's more than one way to tell a story. We are able to sing it, we bead it into our bead work and our moccasins, we sew it into our skirts, we write poetry about it, we cook, we tell stories through everything we do. Matriarch Medicine is a digital collective that is centered around providing a space for healing for Indigenous femmes who are facing and trying to navigate the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples crisis.

Myself, I have found that writing or artistic expression, whether that's poetry, filmmaking, is the way that I sort of process that. And I thought that if I was a Native young person that was looking for a space like that, I should also take part in trying to provide a space for Native young people who are dealing with the same thing.

Native women face some of the highest rates of violence in the country. A lot of it goes undocumented. Murder specifically and violence is the third-leading cause of death for Native women in the United States. Matriarch Medicine is sort of where I found my ability to best highlight the issue.

As a kid, I was always told that when I was going through a hard time, that I should lean on my teachings, and lean on my culture. This ability to kind of tell stories of our people and our families. And that in itself is healing. I know somebody who makes skirts. And she tells the stories of her relatives through those skirts. Or I see people who like to write poems, or they like to cook. I make skirts. I make bead work.

I made that skirt because I really, really like horses. They just remind me of old pictures I see of Kiowa people riding horses. It just reminds me of home. I'm from the plains, Kiowa Comanche Apache Reservation in Oklahoma. I feel like if I put myself into these things that I create and I give them out, it's perpetuating its own healing, but it's also-- it's showing that I care.

Native people have existed in a time where we weren't allowed to exude any part of our culture. We weren't allowed to speak our language. We weren't allowed to dress the way we wanted or have our hair long. And I think the ability to do that, and do it so freely, and do it in combination with other things about me. I am a Native person, but I'm also this. I can be both. And I think that is something that's really powerful.

Storytelling in Miss Indian, Oklahoma as my talent was inspired by everything I do. It does flow into the work I do with Matriarch Medicine, where the goal of it is to tell a story and to have that story mean something to everybody who's listening. Ultimately, that's also what I want to generate with Matriarch Medicine is the ability to hear a story and be healed from it, but also feel inspired to tell your own story.