OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – Nerves are growing as the competition to reign as Miss Indian World 2023 is closing in for former princess, Claudia McHenry. With a passion to spread advocacy for the Indian Child Welfare Act, McHenry plans to express to the judges how she will stand for what is right for Native American children. She believes the title, if she were to win, could help advance her advocacy efforts.
Reigning as Miss Muscogee Nation from2021-2022, her advocacy position led her to earn the 25 Under 25 award based on her leadership and community service.
“I don’t feel like I did enough to actually get it, but I guess I did,” McHenry said.
She led an honor walk, organized a veteran’s breakfast, and participated in the MCN Youth Council. She also led many other events where she volunteered her time to benefit the community.
“If I won, with that momentum, is something I could push yearly,” McHenry said, speaking on her honor walk as an example.
Entering the group of contestants for the upcoming competition, McHenry claims they share commonalities and differences coming from all over the world. Although they are each from different tribes, McHenry claims this gives them a chance to “unify and be together” despite tribal affiliation and distance.
Competing in pageants helped McHenry develop into the woman she is now and the woman she hopes to be. Before, she claims she was very shy and quiet; she lacked the confidence she has now.
“I always wanted to do but I didn’t know how to put myself forward in that way,” McHenry said.
After competing for Miss Muscogee Nation two years in a row, she found herself with the title wearing a crown.
“Even just trying the first time it had really raised my confidence,” she said. “If I didn’t say anything else or teach anything else, that’s what I wanted to teach, perseverance.”
McHenry wants to be someone who youth can look up to.
“I don’t want them to think they can’t try for things,” she said. “You can get all these no’s but eventually you will get a yes if you work hard.”
Raised by the strength of family bonds, McHenry claims that in her family it was common to help one another raise children. She even has a cousin she calls her sister.
“We took in and took care,” McHenry said. “I couldn’t imagine where they’d be had we not been open.”
As a child McHenry wasn’t aware of ICWA, but it was a normal part of life. She values the family culture of togetherness and it is something she applies to pageantry. She claims pageants allow her to make connections and build sisterhoods.
“I made a really deep connection with my Jr. Miss, we’re like sisters now and it’s really important for me to be a model to her,” McHenry said.
Still living within the same reservation, the relationship they share has stayed strong since the two handed down the crowns.
The young lady has a massive support system, her huge family is full of uncles, aunts, siblings, and of course, her mother and father. They all fill her with Mvskoke knowledge and the confidence of a woman. Her support system continues to grow with her Facebook page dedicated to keeping followers up to date along her journey.
“It’s something that I was so surprised about when I announced this, how much support I really had,” McHenry said.
According to McHenry, her mother and sister will hopefully stream the pageant while she is competing during the week-long competition at the Gathering of Nations April 23-29.