Mary Mitchell, 21, was born and raised in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and she is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. A 2011 graduate of Cheyenne-Eagle Butte High School, Mary just graduated with honors from Black Hills State University with a degree in elementary education.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher,” Mary says. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do! Right after graduating from high school, I started substitute teaching in all grade levels, K-12; during every break from college, I would be subbing on Cheyenne River. During the summers, I taught summer school. All this experience only amplified my desire to be a teacher.”
As a child growing up in Eagle Butte, Mary also grew up with the Cheyenne River Youth Project. Her mother, Betsy Mitchell, was a CRYP board member for more than 17 years, and she would encourage young Mary to work in the Winyan Toka Win (“Leading Lady”) garden, attend Passion for Fashion, and volunteer in the annual Christmas Toy Drive.
“I was an elf for many years, and it was always my favorite part of the holiday season,” Mary says. “Seeing how happy it made everyone was, to me, what Christmas is all about. We would wrap presents and then, on Christmas Eve, my whole family and many other community members would go around delivering presents. I got to help spread Christmas cheer for the whole town!”
Over the years, Mary also was an active participant in CRYP’s Midnight Basketball program. Almost every Friday night, she would be at the Cokata Wiconi (“Center of Life”) teen center, playing basketball with her friends and classmates.
“In Eagle Butte, basketball is such a huge part of almost everyone’s lives, and it was so cool that we could all get together and play ball into the night,” she says. “It’s also so important to keep kids off of the streets and (prevent them from) going to parties, because it was a fun drug- and alcohol-free event.”
While at BHSU, Mary was extremely involved in campus life and student organizations. She was president of Lakota Omniciye; president of Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education; Presidential Student Ambassador; and mentor and work study for the Center for American Indian Studies. She also was a part of an Alternative Spring Break group to Guatemala, and she participated in a College Study Tours group to Turkey and Greece.
Her travels haven’t ended with college — she’s on a post-graduation adventure in Ireland as this goes to press — but her heart truly is back home, on the Cheyenne River reservation.
“I’ve been able to meet many amazing people and do things I only could have imagined,” Mary says of her college career. “Now, I’m returning home to be a teacher in Eagle Butte. Even before I left, I knew I wanted to return home, because I want to make a positive impact in my community. I love my home and am ready to finally have a classroom of my own.”