'My work will be
a drop in the bucket, but I'm hoping to motivate the youth of my
SaNoah LaRocque has only been at Harvard for three months but
shes made one heck of an impression.
From her fantastic fashion sense to her love for her culture,
theres plenty of things to talk about when it comes to SaNoah.
She hails from North Dakota and is a member of the Turtle Mountain
Band of Chippewa Indians. She fought against her school to be able
to wear an eagle feather, a treasured symbol in the Chippewa tribe,
on her cap at graduation.
For this, Michelle Obama commended her in a July speech for
the White House Tribal Youth Gathering.
Here at Harvard, SaNoah has taken stayed true to her culture,
participating in Harvards annual Indigenous Peoples
But shes also stayed true to herself as a member of the
Harvard Cheerleading Team and as a student on the pre-med track.
We can start out with a few of the
basics: your name, age, year, concentration?
My name is SaNoah LaRocque, I am 18-years-old, class of
2019 at Harvard College. I am from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation
in North Dakota, although I have moved many times in my life to
different parts of the country. Ive been to 13 schools. I
am a pre-med student, so I believe I will be concentrating in Neurobiology.
at Harvard's Indigenous People's Day Celebration on 11 October
Youve received a shout out
from Michelle Obama, which is amazing. Can you tell us a little
about that, why it happened, how it felt?
During my senior year, it was important to me to be able
to wear an eagle feather on my cap to my high school graduation.
When I approached my principal, I was told that I wouldnt
be allowed to wear it, because the school had a policy barring any
extra decorations on graduation attire.
In my culture, an eagle feather is not a decoration, but an
important cultural symbol. My feathers are an extension of who I
am, and I regard them with the same respect I would afford to an
elder. That being said, I was troubled by my schools unwillingness
to allow me to wear my feather. The Native American community in
Grand Forks held meetings with the school board, appealing the eagle
My friend Betty and I began an campaign online called #LetTheFeathersFly,
which created a lot of conversations to be started. It was amazing
the amount of support we received. Within a few days, #LetTheFeathersFly
became very widespread and we had news articles done on us. We eventually
got the school board to allow us to wear eagle feathers. I had the
opportunity to speak at graduation, with my eagle feather on my
cap in front of all the men who told me I would never be able to.
It was amazing.
A few months later, I had a call from Michelle Obamas
speech writers explaining they had caught wind of my story and wanted
to share it at the Generation Indigenous Conference in D.C. Two
days later, Michelle Obama said my name and my story in her speech.
There really is nothing that compares to the way that felt. I felt
like all the racism I experienced in Grand Forks was worth it, because
the first lady vindicated me. There are no other words for that
experience except life changing.
Do you do any work for Native Americans
and the Chippewa culture, making sure it isnt forgotten or
I am a jingle dress dancer at pow wows, and I dance in
a style that is seldom taught anymore. I love to dance this way,
because it allows me the opportunity to share my style with other
people and remind them that our culture is not about being flashy.
I teach my younger cousins this style. Im involved in
the Native Americans of Harvard College group on campus. This is
great, as it gives me an outlet to share my culture with other Natives,
and vice versa.
As it is easy to tell from my social media, I work really hard
to represent Native people in communities that otherwise have little
exposure. That allows me to advocate for my people, and its
an amazing opportunity.
Whats it like being
a Native American at Harvard?
During my short time at Harvard, I have had a really
positive experience as a Native American student. I feel that the
community at Harvard is very receptive to Native issues and has
a general curiosity in what it means to be a contemporary Native
American in todays society.
This enthralls me, but it also concerns me. I am often approached
with questions that sound silly such as, do you still live
in tipis? or is this your first time being in a city?
It concerns me that the general public has very little knowledge
about Native Americans, and what they do know is severely outdated.
I take these situations with a grain of salt, however. In my
capacity as a Native student at Harvard, I am also very fortunate
to be a teacher as well. I am happy to answer questions and help
people understand what they dont know. It is my hope to impact
at least one persons life at Harvard regarding Native people.
From your Instagram its easy
to tell there are two loves in your life: your culture and your
cheerleading. How is cheerleading here at Harvard?
I love the cheer team at Harvard! I have been involved
in cheerleading since my freshman year of high school. I have always
really enjoyed it. The team here is very talented. They are amazing
and inspiring and very hard working. I am so fortunate to be surrounded
by these young women.
We are competing at the National Cheer competition this spring
in Daytona Florida, and we hope to place higher than Harvard Cheer
has ever placed before, which will likely happen, because of how
talented our team is). Its all very exciting!
What do you want to do after graduation?
I plan on becoming a medical doctor, so when I graduate
from Harvard College I will pursue medical school. From there, I
will return to my reservation in North Dakota and provide medical
Indian Health Services is the government afforded health care
for people of Native heritage. While free health care is great,
the services here are less than ideal. My people are not receiving
the treatment they deserve, and families are losing loved ones as
This is an outrage, and with my medical degree, I plan on providing
the type of health care to my people this is comprehensive
encompassing not only their health needs but their cultural and
social needs as well.
My work will be a drop in the bucket, but Im hoping my
story will motivate the youth of my community to step up to be leaders
for our people as well.