Learning about tragic events in our history can be challenging, but what we discover about ourselves and our communities can be invaluable. Raylen, a Cohort 15 LEDA Scholar, experienced this first-hand when she represented her community earlier this year in the annual Remember the Removal bike ride, which retraces more than 950 miles of the northern route of the Cherokee Trail of Tears.
Raylen is enrolled in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and also has Mississippi Choctaw, Hualapai, and Hidatsa roots. She was selected for the 2020 ride, but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the event and postponed her participation until this year. “It was one of the most enlightening, healing, and spiritual experiences,” she shared. “I learned so much throughout the ride and connected with my culture and teammates in ways I never thought possible. It’s always hard hearing the truth about the history of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, but it’s a whole different experience actually putting yourself in your ancestors’ shoes.”
Joining the LEDA Community was another experience that helped Raylen explore her identity.”LEDA helped push me to ground myself in my culture. Seeing how proud everyone was of their cultures at LEDA made me feel the same pride and helped me connect more with my own. In doing so, I felt more confident and prouder of my identity and culture, especially when leaving home and going to college.“
Currently a sophomore at Dartmouth College, where she’s double-majoring in Government and Native American & Indigenous Studies, Raylen is looking forward to the Dartmouth Powwow in the spring. This annual event is a celebration of Native American culture and community, with more than 1,500 attendees from throughout the U.S. “Natives at Dartmouth have a big community on campus and it’s always a nice feeling when we all come together. I’m excited to open up the space for even more Native people to come to visit for the powwow and to just appreciate one another and their presence.”
Raylen is thinking about pursuing a career in law to better serve her community. “We have so many smart children on the rez, and the biggest reason that they hold back is that they’re not confident enough. I felt the same until going to LEDA,” she recalled. “I struggled with imposter syndrome during the first few weeks [of the Summer Institute], but my friends and the staff helped me realize that I was there for a reason. Ultimately, I want to encourage and support others in the same way.”
Published November 19, 2021