By William Swaim / Wyandotte Nation
When Princess Emilee Wills stepped out into the Wyandotte Nation’s Pow-Wow arena to do ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ back in 2012, she was terrified. She was stepping out of her comfort zone and into an arena filled with bright lights and a big crowd with all eyes on her.
“My first time going out and doing the prayer by myself, I was freaking out,” she said. “The only thing going through my head was, ‘what am I doing here and why did I decide to do this?’ I remember being so scared.”
Those steps into the arena, however, were the biggest steps on her journey to where she is now. And come September at the 28th Annual Pow-Wow, her term as Princess will come to an end.
“Looking back, it was the first time I had stepped out and done something on my own as Princess — it was a huge accomplishment for me at the time,” she said. “Nothing compared to what I have done the last couple of years, but that was a great first step into my role as Princess.”
Wills said it’s a role she had dreamed about since she was 3 or 4 years old. “When I was little, my cousin Mollie (DeWeese, now Leek) was Princess and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I mean, what little girl doesn’t like princesses? My interest was sparked at that point.”
Wills story as Princess is one of personal growth.
At the beginning of 2012, she received a Turtle Talk in the mail listing the opening for the Princess position. She discussed the position and her interest in it with Chief Billy Friend before filling out an application, writing an essay and turning it into Tribal Heritage Director Sherri Clemons.
She said at that point, she was wondering what the heck she just did and was immediately doubting herself. However, she received a call from Clemons and went in for the interview. “One of the questions she (Sherri) asked me was, ‘what does being Wyandotte mean to you?’ I don’t remember what I answered, but I know now that it means something completely different today.
“What it means now is being a part of something bigger than yourself. It means family, it means support and it means success,” said Wills, who is a descendant of the Brown family, which traces back to one of the great chiefs, Adam Brown. Chief Friend is also her cousin.
Wills’ personal growth came from gaining confidence and the learning experience the role of Princess has provided. It’s something that has had a lasting impact on where she is now and where she is going.
“When I first became Princess, I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in myself or what I knew about the Tribe, but now I have confidence in the history and culture of the Tribe, so when I travel I am more confident with the answers I give,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about the culture and history of the Tribe.
“Becoming Princess was probably one of the best things I could have done for myself personally — I have a lot more confidence. I don’t feel like I can say enough, I can’t really put into words how I feel now about myself and my time as Princess because it has done so much good for me.”
When she took over the role, Wills said she got to pick her own theme for her dress and said the dress serves as a visual of who she is.
“I chose horses to represent me because they are strong and beautiful creatures. And that’s who I wanted to be as the Wyandotte Princess, I wanted to be a strong and beautiful role model for the Wyandotte youth,” she said.
As Princess, Wills represents the Tribe at various meetings and conferences across the U.S. as well as traveling to elementary schools with Chief Friend as they speak about the Tribe, the history of the Tribe, and where the Tribe is headed. Plus she performs ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in sign language before any meeting.
“The most important job I have as Princess is making the Chiefs look good,” she said jokingly, laughing.
Clemons said as an Ambassador for the Wyandotte Nation, Wills has been an ideal representative.
“I feel she carries herself very positive, respectful and strong. Emilee has set a great example for younger girls as well as with her peers in the Indian World,” Clemons said.
Wills role has required a lot of traveling and speaking, something she wasn’t immediately comfortable with.
“The most difficult part about being Princess was learning how to step outside of my comfort zone and being comfortable there. I’ve always been a shy person. I don’t like talking in front of people, I don’t like being in front of a lot of people, it’s just not my personality,” she said. “But I have had to learn to be OK with that. I knew going into this position that it took a lot of confidence, and that was something I didn’t have, so I took that as a challenge to better myself while I was serving the Tribe.”
Clemons too has seen how much Wills has grown over the years. “The changes I see in this young lady are amazing; watching her grow up from a teenager to the beautiful young adult I see now.
“When Emilee first started her term as Princess, she was so shy. I am talking shaking so bad her fringe was moving. She would not talk to very many strangers. Now she greets people from all over the country,” Clemons added.
Ironically enough, Wills said one of the things she will miss most about being Princess is the traveling and the opportunity to meet all the different people. Wills said she even met family members she didn’t know existed.
“During my time as Princess, I have met a lot of different people, and any time I run into anyone I have met before, they always talk about how much I’ve grown as a person,” she said. “That’s something that I want the Wyandottes to remember me by, the steps I took to become the person I am today.”
In September at the 28th Annual Wyandotte Nation Pow-Wow, Wills will take her final steps into the arena as Princess as new Princess Sara Wright takes her first steps on her journey.
“I first met Sarah when she was 8 or 9 years old, I was working at Turtle Tots during the summer internship program, I just remember thinking this little girl was full of energy and personality,” Wills said. “She was one of those people, even though she was so young, she knew where she was going in life.”
As for Wills, there is a lot she is going to miss about being Princess, but probably none more so than the bonds she has formed over the years.
“I’m going to miss everything. There’s not any part of this journey I’m going to miss more or less, I’m going to miss everything,” she said.
“I’ve made some of the best relationships with the people that make this all happen, that make Wyandotte happen, over the last couple years. Whether they are blood related or not, these people are my family. They have supported me through everything during my time as Princess, and I can never thank them enough for what they have done for me personally.”
Clemons said Wills has been a joy to work with. “I am proud of the path in life she chose to follow. She will be missed.”