Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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A majority of American Indians with hard earned college degrees are leaving the reservation in hordes, and in the process are taking valuable human capital from their tribes. Making that choice is understandable since off-reservation jobs are more lucrative, relatively secure and usually safe from vicious tribal politics. Yet a few are determined to stay and make an appreciable change.

Jackie Mitchell had such a choice after completing her bachelor of arts in early childhood development at Washburn University, and a master of science at the University of Kansas. She chose to stay on the Potawatami reservation.

Her staying has paralleled a remarkable growth in the children's programs on the reservation.

In the late 1970s and early to middle 1980s, it was a small, $10,000-a-year program. Since that time, it has grown and received over $300,00 worth of program money and recently was awarded a $635,000 new building grant from the Housing and Urban Development Agency.

All of this transpired largely because of Mitchell's grant-writing abilities. No small feat in a time when federal dollars are truly scarce.

The children's center is called the "Penoja Wigwam," Potawatomi words meaning "children's home."

"We offer a wide range of services," said Mitchell, " including Head Start that now serves 32 children, and employs eight people. We have a state-funded Part H Infant/Toddler Program which enables the tribe to serve children under the age of 3 with screening, evaluations, referrals, educational services."

An example of an educational service was a program held on the night of Aug. 16, 1995. This was a special showing of a videotape put together by Mitchell and her staff.

The video featured tribal elders such as Irma Pequano, Alberta "Shaw-no-qua" Wamego, Cecelia "Meeks" Jackson reading tribal stories to the children, sometimes in the Potawatomi language.

The showing drew a large crowd of more than 150 people who enjoyed watching the video, seeing their children and the relatives reading the stories.

Local artists, such as Bob Shuckahosee, Hardy Eteyeen, Clifford Knoxsah, and Willie Potts, drew the pictures for the stories and each had excellent detail and vivid color.

Each of the stories was written by local people and some came from oral history. The stories were a great contribution to the reading future of the children at the center.

At the conclusion of the showing, each person who attended received a free video and hard cover book entitled, "Stories of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians." Both are outstanding contributions to the modern legacy of the tribe.

Mitchell did an excellent job in acquiring the grant money to do this project, and of course, all the hard work to get the project done.

"This project corresponded with the philosophy of the Penoja Wigwam," said Mitchell after the showing, "which is to provide quality services that ensure a seamless system of care and education."

And on this night, it accomplished a worthy goal of preserving a part of history. Many people left the presentation showing a great happiness over this occasion. They now have something to pass on to future generations.

It is the hopes and dreams of the Penoja Wigwam staff that this is the generation who will break the cycle of alcoholism, drug-abuse, and all the negative aspects of tribal politics that have hurt Potawatomi society and in turn, true progress. The goals are to get the young people prepared to live in two worlds, become the leaders of tomorrow, and someday contribute something back to the reservation, much like Mitchell has done.

In short, the answer for the Potawatomi to all the modern day problems is through education and an ability to retain the traditional influences of the past.

As Mitchell states, "The children are the future of our people," and they are getting a good start on the Potawatomi reservation.

In just a few years, the center has grown into a huge success for the tribe and its future. The children of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi reservation are truly getting a quality start in the academic field.

In addition, the children can thank Jackie Mitchell for staying on the reservation and working with a program she obviously cares deeply about.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, Thursday, September 17, 1995 and later reprinted in the Potawatomi Traveling Times and News From Indian Country.

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