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Home Away from Home

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At Dartmouth, Cinnamon Spear '09 works to become "a force in, and for, Indian Country"

When the acceptance letter from Dartmouth arrived five years ago, Cinnamon Spear '09 says she had to decide whether to stay in Montana or take a chance and "close my eyes and fly across the country."

spearCinnamon Spear '09 (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)
Leaving home for the unknown took courage. "Coming to Dartmouth took me away from important things," she says. As a Cheyenne, she explains, her identity is deeply connected to the land. Now, in her last term at Dartmouth, Spear has made the College as much her home as the Northern Cheyenne Reservation where she grew up.

Since the seventh grade, Spear has hoped to work for the Indian Health Service. Witnessing her small community's health-care hardships, she committed herself to becoming a "Cheyenne person who helps Cheyenne people." She came to Dartmouth intending to study science, and to prepare for medical school.

A course during her freshman fall made her rethink that plan. Spear took a Native American studies course with Colin Calloway, professor of history and the Samson Occom Professor, her first term at Dartmouth. "After taking that class," she recalls, "I realized there was so much I didn't know about my own history. I knew Cheyenne history and surrounding tribal histories, but not the entire country's American Indian history."

Members of the Native Women's Dancing Society, from left: Kayla Gebeck '12, Alanna Purdy '09, Cinnamon Spear '09, and Daryl Concha '11. Spear says the group provides a sense of home at Dartmouth.  (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)
She eventually declared a Native American Studies major. "That broad education, and the connections I've made with other Native people here, have equipped me to work with various Natives, not just my own people," she says. Two summers of Howard Hughes Medical Institute-supported research at Montana State University helped hone her scientific skills, and she will complete her Dartmouth degree early, in time to join Montana State's post-baccalaureate pre-medical certificate program in May.

Feeling at home at Dartmouth has not always been easy, but Spear found a welcoming environment and sense of pride in the Native Women's Dancing Society. The coordinator and recruiter for the group, she says that, "Dancing with the other Native girls provides a sense of home ... It is especially uplifting in the middle of a hard week." And as the social chair and service coordinator for the Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Pi Omega Sorority Inc., the first historically American Indian sorority, Spear helps create events that further the group's mission of serving native communities.

Spear has also turned to film. Her self-produced Fort Robinson Spiritual Outbreak Run 2008 documents an annual commemoration of the Jan. 9, 1879, attempt by Northern Cheyenne people to return home to Montana from government-imposed captivity at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. With support from the Office of Undergraduate Research, Spear made the film as an independent study project during winter 2007, and screened it at Dartmouth in January 2009.

"There is more to reservation life than the negative stereotypes," she says. "I wanted to share some of the positive aspects of native communities." The film, Spear notes, was used on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to recruit participants for this year's six-day, 400-mile run, as well as to foster awareness of the history behind it.

Dartmouth, says Spear, has offered her possibilities and the resources needed to accomplish her goals-including, she says, her most important one: to be "a force in, and for, Indian Country."


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Last Updated: 1/19/10