Cheyenne student leaves home wanting to return and help
Spear knows the value of a good education. The recent Dartmouth
College graduate grew up on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation
in the small community of Lame Deer. The list of her accomplishments
in high school and college is as long and diverse as her interests
science, dancing, filmmaking, community activities and
ultimately, service to her people in Montana.
of my parents' experiences going to college, and their understanding
of how important education is, they raised me to understand that
school is important," Spear said. "College was expected,
and not an option. Many families don't value education. I'm
very glad I was raised in a family that did."
degree in Native Studies, a program for which Dartmouth is nationally
recognized, helped open her eyes to the diversity of what being
an Indian is. The college's need-based financial aid programs
made it possible for her to attend, as did Spear's academic
achievement. She received half of the scholarships awarded at her
graduation ceremony at Lame Deer High School.
it wasn't the financial aid that convinced Spear to spend four
years in New Hampshire instead of taking a full-ride offered to
her by Montana State. She chose Dartmouth after a visit to the campus.
had a senior fly-in program, so I went to the campus for three to
four days. We got to sit in on classes, and we met with the Native
American group here. But when I was accepted to Dartmouth, I had
a fear of how I would do there, especially knowing that many of
my classmates had gone to private schools with better resources.
In the chemistry class in Lame Dear, we didn't even have Bunsen
burners. We couldn't do many things because we didn't
valedictorian of her class, with a 4.0 GPA, Spear had enriched her
education by participating in the Montana Apprenticeship Program.
For three summers, Spear spent six weeks participating in hands-on
research in science, technology, engineering and math.
Deer High School
graduate of Dartmouth College with a degree in Native Studies
school academic achievements: received
half of the scholarships awarded at her graduation ceremony;
graduated valedictorian with a 4.0; participated in the
Montana Apprenticeship Program for three years; as a freshman
intern in the MAP program co-authored a 2006 paper in the
journal "Microbial Ecology" based on her helping develop
a new way to understand environmental samples.
of the Native Women's Dancing Society; social chair and
service coordinator for the Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Pi
Omega Sorority Inc., first historically American Indian
sorority; traveled the country as a volunteer as well as
to Lithuania and Poland.
work for IHS, entering a pre-medical program at Montana
State this fall.
intended on majoring in biology. But like many college students,
she switched. In her case, Native American studies, headed by professor
Colin Calloway, became her passion.
one course and learning so much history, law and policy that I didn't
know, I saw that I was completely ignorant of the experiences of
other tribes. I felt that, though I wanted to be a doctor or work
for the Indian Health Service, I needed to understand why IHS exists."
at Dartmouth, Spear immersed herself in social activities. She was
the coordinator of the Native Women's Dancing Society, made
up of young women from several tribes who came together weekly to
talk, make costumes, practice and perform. She served as social
chair and service coordinator for the Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Pi
Omega Sorority Inc., the first historically American Indian sorority.
Spear helped create events that fulfilled the group's mission
of serving Native communities. Dartmouth also has a Native American
house, a place for students to cook food, play music and commune.
back after her Dartmouth graduation, Spear thinks knowing the experiences
of other American Indian peoples in the past and today
will better equip her when she goes to medical school. She points
to the many people she was exposed to, none of whom she would have
met back home.
network I now have across the country and in Indian country is truly
beneficial. If I'd stayed in Montana, I'd only know those
in the state. I was able to learn about different cultures, and
be exposed to other Native Americans, their languages and beliefs,
which is important. That'll help me later in life, if I choose
to work at an IHS facility."
said being around the many cultures, international students, races,
and people of diverse backgrounds and mindsets was influential in
helping her form her own thoughts. "I understand what I stand
for now. I wouldn't have grown so much as a person if I'd
stayed close to home."
in college, Spear was able to travel around the United States on
volunteer trips. She even ventured overseas to Lithuania and Poland.
There, she learned about the Holocaust as she helped preserve a
a Native American, I have an understanding of genocide that most
Americans don't. Many students in the program were ignorant
of their own American history and genocide against Indians. Because
college isn't just about course work; it's about experiences
outside of the classroom that take you places that make you
there is one thing Spear would communicate to high school and younger
students, especially those on reservations, is that so much happens
at college that is never conveyed to Native American students beyond
academics. That's why, she says, they don't want to attend
college. She aims to spark their interest because she believes the
only way to help people is through education.
people get educated, they learn new skills. It's not just about
the degree. If we could get more Indian people to get degrees, teach
them about the economy, they could start businesses to boost their
job markets. Where I live, teen pregnancy and poverty are problems
because people drop out of school because they don't value
of her independent study projects at Dartmouth, the film "Fort Robinson
Outbreak Spiritual Run 2008," which she produced, documents her
tribe's annual commemoration of the 1879 attempt by Northern Cheyenne
people to return home to Montana from government-imposed captivity
at Fort Robinson, Neb. Not only did the film screen at Dartmouth,
it was shown at career day at her high school. "I can write a 30-page
paper, but the film was a venue that more people saw and will see."
Spear encourages an education outside the reservation, she also
knows how important it is to learn her people's ways. "People
at home need us as much as we need them. Some people who stay at
home don't realize how important home is. Some need to step
away to learn that." It was hard for her to be away from her
family, who were unable to attend her recent Dartmouth graduation
was heartbroken when she went away to school," said Spear's
mother, Gladys Limberhand. "But I knew I couldn't keep
her close, because she needed to get a formal education so she could
come back and help her people. Her dad did the same thing, and now
he helps people. Cinnamon's going to go far. It comes naturally
is still focused on working for IHS, and will enter a pre-medical
program at Montana State in the fall to finish her science prerequisites
before applying to medical school. This summer, she's spending
time with family and friends.
I have the freedom to do what I want. I want to write about the
Native American experiences that the rest of America doesn't
people in Cinnamon Spear's life
Burr, a research scientist at the Center for Biofilm Engineering
at Montana State University in Bozeman, is one influential
person in Cinnamon Spear's life. As her first exposure
to the world of academics outside the reservation, the Montana
Apprenticeship Program brought her to Burr's laboratory
as a high school freshman.
was the first Native American intern I'd had,"
Burr said. "The MAP program is very active on campus,
and when I was asked to host a student in the lab, I had
no idea who I would get. I asked for the best student they
had, and Cinnamon was it."
participants take classes, go on field trips, receive pre-college
counseling, learn about financial aid opportunities, participate
in research and receive a salary.
said Spear hit it off right away with the rest of the laboratory
staff, and had a great sense of humor and personality.
she came from a different background than most of us, we
adopted each other. She came back the next four years, was
very motivated to learn and be a role model to other young
people. She didn't want to fit in with her peers, in
the respect that many were involved with alcohol and seemed
stuck in a cycle of poverty. She's happy to be different,
to stand out."
interning in Burr's lab, which studies environmental
microbiology by detecting bacteria in the environment using
DNA, Spear helped develop a new way to understand environmental
samples. This research resulted in her co-authorship of
a 2006 paper in the journal "Microbial Ecology,"
quite a feat for the first high school freshman to participate
in MAP at Montana State.
has kept in touch with Spear through her high school and
college years, attending her high school graduation with
other members of the lab. "I consider her part of the
family, and saw her (recently) for lunch in Pine Ridge.
She's very special to all of us in the lab."
influential person is Colin Calloway, Dartmouth College
professor and former chair of its Native Studies program.
Spear's decision to take his history class, "Invasion
of America-American Indian History Pre-Contact to 1830,"
changed her focus from pre-medicine to Native Studies.
is a class that often changes people's attitudes and
perspectives, most often the perspectives of non-Native
students," Calloway said. "It's not uncommon
to switch majors while at college, though. Students often
take a class or classes in the Native Studies program and
then decide to stay."
knew of Spear's plans to go into medicine, but points
out that, at a college like Dartmouth with a liberal arts
undergraduate focus, students are encouraged to try many
different things. "They may stick with their original
major, but the philosophy is, whatever you do, whatever
your intent is, you will be a better doctor, or engineer
or lawyer, or whatever you want to be, if you have a broader
experience than only classes in your major.
is a very bright, interesting and enthusiastic student.
She was a good student in classes, but was also someone
who thinks for herself. It was neat to work with a Native
American student who came with insight, knowledge and stories
from her own history and to her get immersed more deeply
in her history."