Rachel Beth Sayet: Indigenous educator, essential oil crafter and Reiki practitioner

The newest addition to the Five Colleges’ Native American and Indigenous Studies program, Rachel Beth Sayet, is working to support Native American students.

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff / Daily Collegian

By Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram, Assistant Social Media Editor

Rachel Beth Sayet, the newest addition to the Five Colleges, Inc’s ‘Gathering at the Crossroads’ initiative, is an Indigenous educator, essential oil crafter and Reiki practitioner. As part of the Mellon grant-funded program, Sayet was hired to act as a community development fellow, where she works with staff and faculty members on all five campuses to develop social and cultural programming for Native student communities and others and serves as a liaison to Native communities in the region.

A member of the Mohegan tribe, many of Sayet’s past experiences revolved around her Native American identity, something she came to acknowledge after graduating from college.

“I am lucky that I went to Cornell, I had these spaces that I took for granted at the time,” Sayet said. “There was a great support system, like I could go to the Native house, I could talk to people they had, people that were advisors,.”

At the University of Massachusetts, however, she feels there needs to be more work in creating such spaces for the current Native American students:

“UMass does have a more developed program when it comes to such things, like they do have a house and they have some different things, but it’s old, it needs restructuring. And from what I have gathered…there’s not actually any Indigenous people working there,” she said.

“I think that’s what’s causing issues for the Native community. They don’t feel properly supported, and we don’t really have anyone to talk to,” she explained.

As a community development fellow, she will be trying her best to support the students, as that is something she is passionate about, she explained.

However, her new role is not her only connection to UMass. Sayet was also involved with the libraries on campus, as they have a Native American collection. She used to come to the area to visit these artifacts and also give talks on her work. After coming to the area so many times and growing a liking for it, Sayet eventually applied for the fellowship, which is how she joined the initiative.

In the past, Sayet worked for her family’s museum, which is the oldest Native American museum in the country. Founded by her great aunt and uncle, Sayet worked full time there for eight to 10 years, protecting all of its objects and bringing in different speakers as part of the museum’s activities.

She later started an aromatherapy business which she ran for six to seven years.

“I make blends for healing people. I’ve been working with oil since I was a little kid,” Sayet said.

She has recently been certified to teach Yoga Nidra, and has also been doing Reiki for the past five to six years.

“All these things I’ve been trying to build simultaneously as healing work, which I finally tried to bring together [as a whole].”

Sayet also does healing circles, which she’s been doing through Zoom as well during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s currently taking a break from them in-person, but is open to hosting them for students as well and doing them virtually.

However, Sayet wasn’t always doing work surrounding Native American culture and spirituality:

“My undergrad was in Hotel Restaurant Management at Cornell, so a totally different major. I decided to take this class with this amazing Professor Audra Simpson, who is now at Columbia and she’s a Mohawk woman,” Sayet said.

She added, “I had tried to take Native studies or history of Native American classes with non-Natives a couple times and dropped them because I just couldn’t do it, it just didn’t work for me at the time, so I took this class, and it really opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn’t even know, like about various historical events and other things, such as the American Indian Movement that I grew up learning about.”

“That kind of put me on a different trajectory to start working on. I said, okay, I want to be teaching this as well, especially as a Native Indigenous person and from my own perspective,” she said.

As of her time with Five Colleges, Inc, Sayet has a few things she wishes to accomplish: Some of her goals are to “have training on sensitivity issues,” for Native American people specifically, as well as conducting “some healing circles, if that’s what students need,” and smudgings. Smudging is the ceremonial practice of burning sacred herbs, such as sage or tobacco, practiced by many Native groups.

Sayet also joined the UMass Native Advisory council, and her students are also talking to her about creating gardens and smudging spaces. She explains that’s something that’s in process at UMass as well.

“Hopefully, I can do as much as I can, I still have two more years here,” she said. “I’m just going to take one day at a time.”

Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram can be reached at [email protected]and followed on Twitter @Mahidhar_sl.

 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect corrections from the Five College Consortium.