Cheyenne River Youth Project: Embracing Lakota Heritage
The Cheyenne River Youth Project works with young Lakota to create a stronger economic and cultural future via their Lakota heritage. The Lakota people, known for their chiefs Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Red Cloud, were legally denied their religion, natural resources, language and culture as part of a larger effort of colonization and forced displacement throughout the history of the United States. The long-term impacts of these abuses on the Lakota who live on and near the Cheyenne River Reservation, include high rates of poverty and diabetes, and little investment in critical infrastructure, such as healthcare and broadband.
Julie Garreau founded the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) in 1988 in a derelict bar on Main Street in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Organizational offerings are endless: art classes, a dance studio, a computer lab, a gymnasium, a library, internships, nationally-recognized art workshops, cultural events, leadership development, a coffee shop, cafe and a working garden. While internships give Cheyenne River youth skills and confidence, they’re also designed to help them appreciate the unique power of being Lakota. The cafe serves buffalo meat, and service begins with an azilya—passing around burning sage to cleanse oneself. CRYP hosts pow wows, teepee ceremonies, discussions, and lectures from elder Lakota in the community.
“I want our kids to know that they have roots, and they should rely on them, because that’s gonna give them strength to move forward. We want to remind them that there’s power in being Lakota. We can not only give these kids skills to grow and evolve, but we can help strengthen their Lakota identity, too — so they can go out into the world and thrive, but also always remember who they are and where they come from.” — Julie Garreau, founder of the Cheyenne River Youth Project