Nation’s First Indigenous Dentist Received Lifetime Achievement Award ”Albuquerque Journal

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George Blue Spruce Jr. signs copies of his autobiography “Searching for My Destiny,” which was published in 2009. (AT Still University)

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – George Blue Spruce Jr. wakes up every day of the week and commutes to work, a typical routine for most American adults.

What’s not typical is that Blue Spruce turned 90 in January.

Blue Spruce, the first Native American dentist and now associate dean of the school of dentistry and oral health at AT Still University in Arizona, said he tried to retire many years ago. , but that it didn’t suit him, so he went back to work. . Those who know him or know his life story probably weren’t surprised.

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The Laguna Pueblo member has never lived in a way others might have expected.

He will then work with the World Health Organization in South America, and serve as Deputy Surgeon General and Director of the Indian Health Service for the Phoenix area.

“My parents focused on formal education, which they didn’t have,” he said. “They knew I would need it to be successful in mainstream society.”

The Macy’s Foundation recently awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award for his service to the country and in the field of dentistry. The Macy Awards for Excellence in Social Mission celebrate the “leaders who have advanced the social mission” of healthcare professionals.

“(Dr. Blue Spruce)… has been recognized as the first Indian dentist in the United States and realizes that as a pioneer he has a responsibility to inform the health care professions for Native American children and natives of Alaska who do not know this route. exists, ”said an announcement from the Macy’s Foundation by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University and the Beyond Flexner Alliance. “He challenged Native Americans and Alaska Natives to recognize the importance of dentistry, and his unique leadership left a legacy of promoting social mission in teaching the health professions.

George Blue Spruce Jr.

Blue Spruce was born at the Indian School Hospital in Santa Fe on January 16, 1931. His father was a faculty member at the school and taught cabinetry, and his mother was a cook. He attended St. Michael’s in Santa Fe and continued his education at Creighton University of School of Dentistry in Nebraska, where he was the first American Indian to graduate from dental school.

Blue Spruce’s parents grew up in an era that would have tragic and lasting cultural consequences for Native Americans across the country.

“My mom and dad were from the generation that was forced into residential school to fit into the mainstream of society,” he said. “They didn’t speak, read or write in English, the language of the dominant culture. “

Blue Spruce said her parents were determined not to face the same challenge, so her first language was English. Although he could speak some of his parents’ Pueblo languages, Tewa and Keres, he was never fluent in either.

This did not prevent him from maintaining a proximity and a pride of his roots. He founded the American Indian Dental Association and worked to recruit and train other American Indians to practice dentistry, which led to his current job.

George Blue Spruce Jr., Assistant Dean of Indian Affairs in the School of Dentistry and Oral Health at AT Still University, receives a hug from Norman Gevitz, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs. The photo was taken during a celebration in 2014 about a lecture series that would be renamed in honor of Blue Spruce. (At Still University)

He said that although his parents assimilated into America’s mainstream, they remained proud of their culture and continued to practice their traditions. They encouraged him to do the same, allowing him to be successful without ever losing sight of who he was.

“I am very, very proud of my heritage and close to my heritage,” he said. “And I’m proud of my accomplishments.

According to a 2006 New York Time article, the son of dentist Duane Blue Spruce, who grew up in Staten Island, not really knowing his father after his parents divorced, was also successful. He graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in architecture and is the Facilities Planning Coordinator at the Smithsonian Institution. The two reconciled in adulthood.

A chance encounter as a teenager with a dentist, who became a mentor, inspired Blue Spruce to pursue dentistry. Once he spoke about his dreams out loud, he said there was no turning back. Even if he had wanted to give up, he couldn’t let down his parents or everyone. Being the only Native on the college campus put him in the spotlight, but it was an attention he was happy to embrace. It gave him a chance, he said, to teach others about himself and his people.

“Everyone was watching my every move,” he said. “I had to learn about the history of my own tribe. Everyone was asking me questions and I had to have the answers.

Blue Spruce said he had no plans to retire and being with the students made him feel young.

“I’ll tell you a funny story,” he said. “We have a museum at the school and the equipment that I used when I was in school is now in that museum. The students can’t believe it. They love to hear my stories from the past.


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