When Mabelle moved from the Navajo reservation to Dartmouth’s campus, she brought her gun. Of course, she wasn’t allowed to carry any ammunition on the plane, but she flew the gun in a zipper case to Boston, and then to Lebanon, NH. It was almost too big to fit in the overhead bin on the puddle jumper plane, but luckily it had been custom made – a little smaller than others. She didn’t know then that she wouldn’t be allowed to keep it in her dorm. The NAP director, Grace Newell, was waiting for her when she arrived on campus, carrying her gun over her shoulder. Grace let Mabelle know that she needed to inform the campus police about it. When she went to the campus police, they offered Mabelle a locker near the target practice area underneath the gymnasium. All four years at Dartmouth, she stored her gun in that locker, and she could use it whenever she wanted.
“She’s a sharpshooter,” her friend Steve, class of ‘84, said of Mabelle. “She didn’t participate in many extracurriculars or nothing but [the guys] took her down to the range once and she blew them all out of the water. And you know, we’re all going, “What the fu-?” She grew up on the Navajo reservation with no electricity, and was out shooting rabbits or something.”
Along with the rifle team, Mabelle spent her time at Dartmouth with the NADs and as a walk-on with the girls basketball team. And that’s all she needed.
Mabelle had been planning on going to the University of Arizona for college, but one of her high school teachers had a brother who went to Dartmouth, so she knew about the Native American Program there. She told Mabelle about the Native Fly-in program, which ended up being Mabelle’s only experience with Dartmouth before committing to it.
“[Dartmouth] seduces you,” Mabelle said. “It’s a gorgeous campus with beautiful buildings. Not too big. It was something that I was looking forward to.”
At first, there was an adjustment period – a sad adjustment period. And when Mabelle was a student, it was expensive to be sad. It cost her three dollars a minute to call home, and all she could do was sit on the phone and cry. Her mom and dad would ask her questions, but she couldn’t articulate what was wrong. Thirty dollars worth of crying in a day, nine hundred dollars worth of crying in a month. Eventually her parents told her not to call anymore – they just couldn’t afford it.
The problem was that she was homesick. And she had two roommates who didn’t know how to deal with her sadness, so they dealt with it by being mean. Mabelle imagined that all of her friends back home must have been having much more fun at the local college. Two weeks before the holiday break, she packed up all of her bags and brought everything home with her. She’d planned to leave and never come back.
Back in Arizona, she begged and begged her dad to drive her to a basketball game at Tuba City High School, where she knew a lot of her high school friends would be. When he agreed, she was ecstatic. She couldn’t wait to reconnect with them. They had been out of touch for months. He drove her an hour to the game to see them, and when they got to talking, she started to notice some things. A lot of her friends were not doing very well in school. They didn’t seem to be taking the steps they needed to take in order to succeed, they were partying a lot, drinking too much.
“I just thought, That is really weird. When would you have time to mess up your life like that? I think focusing on school and focusing on doing well was so important to me, so on the drive back I told my dad I think I should stay [at Dartmouth], I was doing much better than everyone else was doing,” Mabelle said. “He just said, ‘Do what you have to do.’ I’m also mindful that he and my mom gave up a lot for me to be there and it would be a shame to waste that.”
In retrospect, four years was a short period of time, and Mabelle was not without support. Grace Newell was like a “big sister, incredibly informal and very helpful.” Grace absorbed the NAD undergrads into her “squad,” she would invite them to play softball or soccer. She knew how to find resources on campus, who to call for whatever issue someone may be facing. She could help people if they were struggling in their classes or if they needed small cash loans.
To curb Mabelle’s homesickness during her freshman spring, Grace bought her a sheep from somewhere in Vermont. Mabelle butchered the sheep at the NAD house – just as she would have at home.
“I cut its neck, we put it up, I butchered. The other NADs were really sick, they didn’t like me doing that, but they helped,” Mabelle said. “They didn’t want to eat any of it, so I got to eat all of the good parts. I remember being really full. And happy. And it was really nice of [Grace] to do that. I think they did it for other people as well, when people were not really settled they were good at figuring things out.”
There were nine NADs in the class of ‘86 that hung out together at the NAD house. There may have been more around eleven or twelve Native students on campus, but they didn’t come around. Of the nine Native students that Mabelle knew in her class, everyone graduated.
“That's a big thing for us in 1986,” Mabelle said. “A lot of people had gone to Dartmouth but they had not graduated, and for us to be able to say that our whole class graduated was a big thing. A couple of people took an extra year but you know, in the end, they graduated.”
After graduating, Mabelle needed money to get her transcript from Dartmouth so she could apply for her first job. She sold her gun at a pawn shop in the town square area of Lebanon. Then she went back to the registrar's office and paid her bill. She didn’t think she’d ever get her gun back – she was just done. She was grateful to have had it at Dartmouth, but she didn’t need to shoot anymore.