Even as a young child I had a keen interest and a certain curiosity in nature and the outdoors. As a teenager, my friends and I would often go on hikes in the mountains and around the river valleys around my home in northern Alabama. For many such hikes we would skip our morning classes only to check in after lunch to ask our biology teacher about a certain tree or plant we had encountered. Soon after, we began to stumble upon artifacts which only heightened my curiosity.
Thus began my studies in anthropology. As I began to research, I was able to make friends and connections and received a chance to work on the excavation at the Fort Payne archaeological site, which helped establish the Benge route on the Trail of Tears. The experience of just being able to sift through the soil and find that connection to the past is an amazing thing. You begin to feel a deep connection with the ones who suffered heartache and devastation.
This past July I was able to represent the National Trail Of Tears Association at the National Trails conference in Missoula, Montana. Since returning, I have spoken at several events encouraging youth to get involved with preserving the past and the outdoors. In October 2009 I was invited to speak before the National Trail of Tears Association here in my home state. I challenged them to encourage youth involvement and conveyed the message and lessons that I learned from the National Conference in July. I was able to answer several of their questions and they graciously accepted my challenge. It is my dearest hope that I can continue to encourage youth involvement and promote our nation’s national trails.
HI’ILEI LEVENSON, Age 18 ~ HILO, HAWAI’I
I am now a senior in High School preparing to begin a pre-pharmacy program at the University of Hawai’i -Hilo. Because I am staying on my home island, I will still have many opportunities to spend time on the Ala Kahakai Trail. I particularly enjoy fishing; sometimes I fish with a spear, other times I throw nets. The Ala Kahakai serves as a path to the ocean for me to continue the practices of our ancestors.