Cinnamon Spear, Northern Cheyenne, grew up on the reservation and excelled academically, but always admired the natural athletic ability of others who played basketball with ease. She appreciated the nuances, passion, and camaraderie that enveloped the Lame Deer, Montana community when it came to watching the Lame Deer High School Morningstars play. The entire town would caravan to cheer and root for local young heroes, and the lively play was something not seen off the reservation.
Spear, who graduated June 9, 2013 from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire with a Master of Arts in liberal studies with a concentration in creative writing, completed her master’s thesis project with a film, Pride & Basketball, that followed her old school, the Lame Deer basketball team.
As a creative writing major, why did you choose film as your medium?
I chose to use film because people weren’t able to formulate in their mind what rez life was like and only had vague references of it. What film does is it presents an image, so I decided to put the images of my people into mainstream society. Whereas, if I wrote a story about Pride & Basketball on the reservation, it wouldn’t have nearly the same affect as film.
I also wanted to put [out] a product that my community could be proud of because I’m often told by anyone, from young kids to the elderly—with my education from one of the premiere institutions in the country—“I’m so proud of you!” But the message I wanted to send back to them is, “I’m so proud of you!” Because I understand the daily struggles that people have to overcome living on reservations, and in spite of all that, when it’s basketball season, we’re still a proud nation and I wanted to capture that.
What’s been the reaction of non-Natives to the film?
I first screened at Dartmouth, and the Vermont and New Hampshire areas a number of times before I was able to take it home. To me it was a big deal because I had no film training experience at all, and it was just me really having this idea and jumping into it. So when I was done there was a passion that wanted me to say, “Look what I did! Look at my people and my relatives! Let me share this beautiful thing with the world.” Plus, I like showing off our style of basketball—Native ball of course doesn’t exist off the rez. I found questions from non-Native audiences were so engaged, and they ate it right up. It opens a door to a whole other world that people are unfamiliar with and allows me to educate people about rez life, and the history of Native basketball.
Tell me about the ending where it implicates a lot of youngsters don’t thrive after high school basketball?
This is a highlight of their life, but the way I crafted the end was to show this shouldn’t be the only highlight of their life. So I have a speaker on there who says we have so many people with talent, but education is where we’re losing them. I’m at the prime level of our education and I didn’t really like high school, but in college you have so much more freedom, and now we have the word ‘Master’s’ floating around the rez in regards to something we’re all passionate about. Whether you use basketball as a tool to further your education is up to you. But there is a meticulous way I needed to communicate that because you can’t offend people who you’re trying to highlight either. It was a fine line, and so that’s why I had the one person and even a coach say this is a highlight of their life, but they also need to move onto something else.