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Cheyenne River Youth Project

Cheyenne River Youth Project

The Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) was founded in 1988, creating a safe space for youth where they know they will have fun activities and a warm meal,” introduces Executive Director Julie Garreau. “What started out as a small youth center has grown into a gold standard for youth programming. Part of that programming is the organic Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) garden and farmers market. Fostering a sense of connectiveness has always been the primary goal of the garden. Through it, we teach food sovereignty to our youth and show that they can be a truly sovereign nation, free from high fat and sugar commodities.”

A 2020 Youth Garden Grant recipient located in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, CRYP is connecting local youth to their Lakota culture and heritage through a diverse array of garden- and food-based programming. They are engaging with older youth through a variety of internships ranging in focus from sustainable agricultural and social enterprises to wellness and art.

A Native Food Sovereignty Internship combines hands-on learning in the garden and kitchen with classroom time. Participating youth help plant, maintain, and harvest produce grown in the 2.5 acre Winyan Toka Win Garden and then have the opportunity to process foods from the garden in the Cokata Wiconi teen center kitchen. Much of the food prepared and harvested by these teens is available at CRYP’s Keya Cafe.

In the classroom, Native Food Sovereignty interns might tackle topics like plant identification and soil composition. They also delve into Lakota traditions and values. “We learn about indigenous plants in our area and their traditional uses,” notes Youth Program Coordinator Jerica Widow. “We’re able to teach them what traditional gardening may have looked like and how they incorporate these practices into modern day gardening.”

A newly created Indigenous Cooking Internship will also foster connections between youth and traditional Lakota foods and recipes. The internship is partly inspired by the work of Chef Inyan Eagle Elk of Partnerships with Native Americans and Oglala Lakota chef Sean Sherman who is also the founder/CEO of the Sioux Chef, a business dedicated to revitalizing native American Cuisine. Many of the recipes interns will be cooking up are pulled from Sherman’s James Beard Award Winning cookbook The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. CRYP’s Deputy Director Dawnee LeBeau says that the internship creates an opportunity for youth to “build skills and understand the bigger picture of Indigenous food — the value in it and the meaning.”

Some interns go on to be CRYP employees. “We have three youths who cycled through a few internships and now they’ve transitioned to being staff. That’s in line with one of our goals. We want to grow our workforce and make sure that kids interested in these areas know there are jobs out there that they can get,” shares Jerica. “We also want them to know that these are careers they can have after they graduate or when they’re an adult that will allow them to stay connected to their culture and their rez.”

Beyond internships, CRYP also offers gardening programming to 4- to 12-year-olds in the shape of a weekly garden club. “They’re heavily involved in each step of the process, planting, maintenance, harvesting. They have their own rows in the garden so they can take care of a space and just learn all about the growing process,” Jerica says. “We want to give them different skills and start that learning early in their life.”

The importance of getting Lakota youth out into the Winyan Toka Win Garden and learning about traditional foods and growing practices is heightened by the garden’s past. The growing space was originally created by CRYP’s executive director’s mother and maintained by tribal elders. Jerica highlights that “There’s a lot of significance to the space with the next generation now taking care of the garden.”

KidsGardening is honored to be able to support the amazing work of the Cheyenne River Youth Project through a 2020 Youth Garden Grant.