Graduating Haskell student with passion for Indigenous and American Indian studies hopes to one day help lead a tribal government

photo by: Lauren Fox

Graduating senior Sam Riding In, whose tribal name is Riding In Front As a Leader, is pictured on the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University on May 3, 2021.

As a child, Sam Riding In, whose tribal name is Riding In Front As a Leader, would wait for what seemed like hours whenever his parents reconnected with old friends from Haskell Indian Nations University.

His mom is an alumna of the school, and the ties between her and her former classmates are strong. Now, the graduating Haskell senior understands why.

“We all have a kind of shared experience,” the 23-year-old said. “You’re going to be closer here to people than you’ve ever imagined.”

Riding In said that as he makes his way in the world, he knows he will run into people he met at Haskell.

“And whenever I see them I’m going to talk to them — we’re going to reconnect,” he said.

photo by: Sumer Mohsen

Sam Riding In is pictured at a powwow in Haskell’s stadium in 2019.

Riding In is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. He is also Pawnee and Seminole, and is from Pawnee, Okla. He was a Haskell transfer student and originally started his college career at the University of Oklahoma. While there, Riding In decided to take some Native American studies classes, thinking it might help boost his grades.

“But I ended up falling in love with what I was learning in those programs, and I started thinking more and more about Haskell,” he said.

Riding In transferred to Haskell in the fall of 2018 and will graduate with a degree in Indigenous and American Indian Studies. He said attending Haskell and being surrounded by students from different tribes helped him shape his own identity.

“We all kind of have our own power that we carry, and we bring it and we share that with each other, and we’re all stronger because of that,” he said.

While at Haskell, Riding In revived the American Indian Studies club and renamed it the Indigenous Student Alliance to make it more encompassing of all native peoples. He was a student senate representative his junior year; was president of a Native American fraternity, Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma; was part of Haskell’s hand game team; and was a dancer with the Haskell Powwow Association.

photo by: Contributed Photo

Sam Riding In, pictured fourth from the left, is pictured at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in 2019 for a powwow.

He was also part of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), a national organization that connects 37 tribal colleges and universities. As part of AIHEC, Riding In would attend conferences across the United States, and he noted that it is an experience he could not have gotten at a nontribal university.

“So there are some things here that only Haskell students can really be a part of, that you wouldn’t get at other, bigger schools,” he said.

Riding In said he enjoyed dancing with the Powwow Association at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., and at elementary schools in Kansas and Missouri.

“I definitely enjoyed going to elementary schools and talking about what my regalia means, what dancing means to me or what my culture means to me to these students who may have never met Native people before,” he said.

His favorite Haskell memories include sitting around a fire with friends singing songs and playing hand games, getting ready for powwows on campus or simply eating dinner at Curtis Hall with a table full of friends.

photo by: Lauren Fox

Sam Riding In (Riding In Front As a Leader) plays a Native American sport, stickball, on the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University on May 3.

Eric Anderson, a professor of Indigenous and American Studies at Haskell, called Riding In “a model student in a lot of ways,” and said he always offered sharp insights to class discussions while also being an attentive listener. Anderson specifically remembered Riding In’s passion for a project in his History of American Indians in Kansas class. He said Riding In focused his work on the Pawnee Scouts, who served with the United States Army in the 19th century.

Anderson said he has high hopes for Riding In’s future.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he becomes a well-known figure in Indian country and beyond,” he said.

Riding In said the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely put a damper on the end of his time at Haskell. He’s been in virtual classes since March of 2020, and he will not get to graduate in the Coffin Complex with a big crowd. However, Riding In did attend an in-person graduation ceremony put on by a local community center where he works: Sacred Ground Haskell.

After graduation, Riding In has applied for a fellowship program in which he would work in an Oregon congressperson’s office and represent the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon. He also is applying for graduate school programs in public administration. He said that he’s interested in one day helping lead a tribal government.

“As far as I can remember I’ve really only had one goal, and that’s to either work for Native people or work with Native people,” he said. “The end goal is definitely to represent my people any way I can.”

Riding In said his tribal name — Riding In Front As a Leader — has shaped a lot of his decisions. He was given the name by a Pawnee community member.

“I was given the name at 19 — a pretty young man — and that’s a lot of weight to carry as a young man,” he said. “That name has shaped a lot of my decisions, which have led me here.”


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