Alyce Spotted Bear, tribal leader and Obama appointee, remembered as inspiration

2013-08-16T16:32:00Z Alyce Spotted Bear, tribal leader and Obama appointee, remembered as inspirationBy HANNAH JOHNSON | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK, N.D. — Alyce Spotted Bear, a nationally known educator and former chairwoman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, was a pioneer who inspired all those who knew her, educators and state officials say.

Spotted Bear died Tuesday of liver cancer. She was 67.

At the time of her death, Spotted Bear was the vice president of the Native Studies Department at Fort Berthold Community College, a department she helped create.

"We at Fort Berthold Community College are grateful for the opportunities that were bestowed upon us through her committed efforts and feel fortunate she came to be with us," college President Russell Mason Jr. said in a statement.

Spotted Bear was born in Elbowoods on Dec. 17, 1945, one of 13 children.

She became chairwoman of the Three Affiliated Tribes — one of only two tribal women to be elected to that position — in 1982 and served until 1987.

"She was a very intelligent leader, and compassionate," said Jodi Rave, her niece and a fellow instructor in the Native Studies Department at Fort Berthold. "She was always kind and generous."

During her tenure as chairwoman, Spotted Bear spearheaded the effort for Missouri River tribes to be compensated after many were displaced by flooding during the building of the Garrison Dam.

She was a prominent voice in Native education and was known as Numakshi Mihe, a Nueta name meaning "Lead Woman."

Spotted Bear earned her bachelor's degree in education from Dickinson State University and a master of education degree from Pennsylvania State College. She completed coursework for a doctorate in education at Cornell University in New York.

In 2010, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education, a group that advises the secretary of education on programs that affect Native Americans.

"Alyce Spotted Bear was an inspiration to all who knew her. She was a great leader — not just in her community, but throughout North Dakota and the country," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement.

Heitkamp called Spotted Bear a great friend who "leaves behind an enduring impression on the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation."

Spotted Bear worked in all levels of education — as a high school teacher, principal, school superintendent and federal programs administrator. She served as a visiting faculty member in Native American Studies at Dartmouth College.

Mason called her "one of the pioneering American Indian women tribal leaders in the entire Great Plains."

Spotted Bear's battle with cancer was short. Doctors told her they suspected liver cancer less than a month ago, on July 25.

She is survived by her son, Travis Hallam, four grandchildren and numerous siblings, foster and adopted siblings and nieces and nephews.

The wake and funeral will take place at the school in Twin Buttes, where Spotted Bear lived. The wake will be at 6 p.m. Sunday and the funeral service at 10 a.m. Monday.

Tribal flags will be flown at half-staff until after her funeral, a statement from the Three Affiliated Tribes said.

Reach Hannah Johnson at 701-250-8251 or

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