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Student’s Native Women Exhibit at National Museum of the American Indian

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A Gates Millennium Scholarship and acceptance into the Washington Internships for Native Students (WINS) was the starting point for one student’s recent success. Mary Jo May, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, a Black Hills State University student and senior social science education major, created an exhibit featuring Native women that will be displayed at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian.

As one of only 100 students nationwide chosen for WINS, she spent the summer at American University working in historic preservation at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The exhibit generated from her research was the only one chosen for display at NMAI.

According to a BHSU press release, May’s exhibit features Native American women in the military from South Dakota, including Marcella LeBeau, from Eagle Butte, and Ola Rexroat, from Box Elder, who became the only Native American to serve her country as a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot (WASP). LeBeau, who was a member of the Army Nurse Corps during World War II, had a 31-year career as a nurse with the Indian Health Service (IHS) in Eagle Butte, and is a founding member of the North American Indian Women's Association.

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May interviewed LeBeau for the project and said: “She is a very interesting woman. There is quite a bit of information on the exhibit about individuals from South Dakota and I think many would enjoy it,” May said in the release.

The exhibit was not only the result of being part of WINS, May was asked to accept a paid position and continue her research from home after the internship concluded.

“Overall, the internship was an amazing opportunity that opened my eyes to so much that I did not know. I learned a lot about other Native American tribes in all parts of the country,” May said in the release.

May plans to graduate in December 2011 and is eager to begin teaching.