The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation is mourning the loss of one of the tribe’s greatest tribal leaders as Gary M. Mitchell, 63, walked on January 23 surrounded by his family in Topeka.
The 18-year tribal government employee had served on the Tribal Council as chairman, vice chairman, and treasurer. Most recently he was serving as the chairman of the PBPN Gaming Commission where he had been working off and on since 1997.
Mitchell graduated from Washburn University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and followed that with a master’s degree in history from Baker University.
Rey Kitchkumme, who is on the Gaming Commission and had also worked with Mitchell on the Tribal Council, said: “On behalf of everyone who worked under his chairmanship the Gaming Commission is deeply saddened by his loss. He honored our Nation through service with tremendous passion and integrity. He was a good friend, mentor, co-worker and boss. His intelligence, wit, guidance, and graciousness will be forever remembered. His love for the tribe, traditional ways, and his family were evident in everything that he did. Our thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathy are with the Mitchell family at this difficult time.”
While serving as tribal chairman Mitchell was a driving force as the tribal-state gaming compact was legislated in the 1990s and the building of a casino on the Prairie Band Reservation. He was well known for his active role in introducing gaming to PBPN.
A lifelong resident of the reservation, he was dedicated to maintaining his people’s traditions and language. A man of many hats, Mitchell was a Potawatomi speaker giving invocations at powwows; was the tribe’s historian and Native author appearing in books and magazines. He was founder of the Potawatomi News, the Nation’s newspaper that has been circulated to the tribal membership since 2000.
“He was a good man and a well respected member of the community. He understood the importance of preserving the culture, traditions and history of the Prairie Band Potawatomi people in a deeply profound way. He also took an active role in that preservation through not only his writings, but the way he lived his life,” Liana Onnen, PBPN Tribal Council chairperson, said. “Gary served his people and his community through elected office for many years and his passing is a great loss for our people and for all the lives he touched. We offer prayers of support for his family during this time and will remember Gary fondly and with great respect.”