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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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SaNoah LaRocque: Chippewa, Cheerleader And Superstar
by Devon Black, Senior Tab Reporter

'My work will be a drop in the bucket, but I'm hoping to motivate the youth of my community'

SaNoah LaRocque has only been at Harvard for three months but she’s made one heck of an impression.

From her fantastic fashion sense to her love for her culture, there’s 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 Harvard’s annual Indigenous People’s Day celebration.

But she’s 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. I’ve been to 13 schools. I am a pre-med student, so I believe I will be concentrating in Neurobiology.

SaNoah at Harvard's Indigenous People's Day Celebration on 11 October

You’ve 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 wouldn’t 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 school’s unwillingness to allow me to wear my feather. The Native American community in Grand Forks held meetings with the school board, appealing the eagle feather case.

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 Obama’s 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 isn’t forgotten or disrespected?
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. I’m 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 it’s an amazing opportunity.

What’s 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 today’s 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 don’t know. It is my hope to impact at least one person’s life at Harvard regarding Native people.


From your Instagram it’s 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). It’s 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 care.

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 a result.

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 I’m hoping my story will motivate the youth of my community to step up to be leaders for our people as well.

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