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.Walking in Two Worlds - Mary Mitchell 1

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.)

Walking in Two Worlds - Mary Mitchell2Connection, 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.

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  1. Posted February 25, 2015 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    I find your story inspirational and would like to share with my students. please contact me if possible.

    • Posted February 27, 2015 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Andres, we are delighted you’d like to share the story with your students. Please email your request directly to Also, stay tuned as we have another good story coming up next week.

  2. Posted February 26, 2015 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    I kno how they feel. Spread the strength!

  3. Posted March 7, 2015 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    My husband, an Elder in the Cheyenne Arapaho Tribe of Oklahoma and PhD scholar and professor, and I are beginning a web-linked network of educators who work with Native American students in colleges and universities. I have my doctorate as well in adult learning with a focus on Native American online learning. Currently I work with faculty and their teaching at a large university. My husband and I have realized that many Native students in higher education are taught by non-Native faculty who have expressed a need for access to teaching strategies that will be more effective for Native American students. We are beginning with teleconferences, "Designing a course for Native students" 6 week workshop, and on-site workshops for faculty. We will publish a monthly newsletter and regular blog and hope to engage in many other initiatives for these educators in the Fall. Your blog is helpful and we would like to link it to our website and stay in touch with your work. Student voices and faculty voices need to be connected to bridge the gap in understanding and culture. We hope you will join us as we hope to join you. Nancy Fire

    • Posted March 9, 2015 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Nancy, thanks so much for your note and your efforts toward Indian education. We also support Native American students through our AIEF services (

      Regarding the online course, bear in mind that Internet access is a challenge in the remote, isolated and impoverished reservation communities, but if you are reaching an urban population, Internet may be more accessible. I will email you offline about linking to our site.

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