Mary Mitchell, Walking in Two Worlds
Last week we kicked off our “Walking in Two Worlds” blog series by talking about maintaining physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance in everyday life. Maintaining this kind of balance is critical for Native Americans living one life in two worlds. There is the world of contemporary time and place defined by the mainstream culture, and there is the world of indigenous culture, knowledge and understanding. As I mentioned last week, sometimes the two worlds contradict; sometimes they complement one another.
This week, Mary Mitchell, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a senior at Black Hills State University (BHSU), shares her experience of “walking in two worlds.”
Before moving to Spearfish, South Dakota, to attend college, Mary spent her entire life in the community of Eagle Butte, South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Growing up Mary spent her time volunteering in her community and getting involved in school sports. Being so active and present helped Mary build an empowering network. Through this and her large, supportive, close-knit family, Mary grew up knowing who she was – a young Lakota woman.
When Mary left Eagle Butte, she left nervous, sad and one of only a handful ever to have left the reservation for college. Her life was becoming one that would be spent in two worlds.
Thankfully, Mary wouldn’t have to go it alone. The Bridge Program offered by BHSU’s Center for American Indian Studies gave Mary the opportunity before the start of her first semester to transition into life away from home, while getting connected with other first-time Native American college students. (The Center for American Indian Studies is a long-time Program Partner of National Relief Charities and its American Indian Education Foundation.)
Connection, Mary says, is at the heart of her ability to maintain balance while “walking in two worlds.” After participating in the Bridge Program her freshman year, Mary went on to mentor other Native American students entering the Bridge. She also now serves as President of the Lakota Omniciye student organization at BHSU. Lakota Omniciye addresses the needs of Native students and coordinates the school’s annual “American Indian Awareness Week” and its “Lakota Omniciye Wacipi.” The wacipi (powwow) brings in about 3,000 guests from South Dakota and the surrounding states of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Bringing Native American culture to campus is just one of the ways Mary stays connected with her roots. She continues to be active in Eagle Butte, volunteering with the Cheyenne River Youth Project and the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School. Mary also keeps close to her family on Cheyenne River through letters and phone calls throughout the school year.
When Mary faces difficulty keeping her balance while “walking in two worlds,” she remembers the lessons of her Aunt Ione shared at a very early age: As a young Lakota woman, her life is in the service of her people. Mary humbly carries this knowledge in all that she does, be it volunteering in the community or representing Native Americans at Black Hills State University.