Kids are back in school across the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, and for the Cheyenne River Youth Project, that means a shift in youth and teen programming. To accommodate back-to-school schedules and seasonal interests, CRYP is launching a fall lineup that blends old favorites with new offerings.
All the action for the community’s 4- to 12-year-olds is centered at “The Main” youth center, which will continue to be open five days per week from 4 to 6 p.m. In addition to enjoying arts and crafts, outdoor play, snacks and an evening meal, children also will be able to participate in Garden Club for 30 minutes each day until the growing season comes to an end.
“We started Garden Club more than 15 years ago so our younger children would have opportunities to help plant, nurture and harvest the crops in our 2.5-acre Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden,” explained Jerica Widow, CRYP’s programs director. “It’s a hands-on way to strengthen the connection they have with our traditional Lakota culture and with Unci Makha (Grandmother Earth), while getting plenty of fresh air and exercise.”
Also coming up for youth at The Main: CRYP’s Main University. Recipient of a “Champion for Children” award from the South Dakota Coalition for Children, this program was founded by a long-term volunteer in 2002; it gives children opportunities to choose classes that interest them, keep track of their own attendance and projects, and celebrate graduation with their classmates.
“We’ll be announcing classes in a few days, and the program will officially start on Sept. 18,” Widow said. “Classes will be held weekly until Nov. 3, with the exception of the week of Sept. 25. That is our ‘fall hibernation’ week, in keeping with our indigenous calendar. We take that week to acknowledge the passing of the autumnal equinox and prepare for the next season.”
Teens also will be busy in the coming weeks and months. The new cohorts of CRYP’s Art and Food Sovereignty teen interns started their six-week programs on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Food Sovereignty Internship track empowers teens to take leadership roles in the Winyan Toka Win Garden. Not only do they gain valuable experience in planting, maintaining and harvesting a garden that produces more than 10,000 pounds of produce each growing season, they also learn to process and preserve these food items.
“Connecting to culture is another vital component to the internship,” Widow said. “We provide the interns with access to resources, experts and field trips so they can learn more about traditional Lakota foods, medicinal plants and life ways.”
The nonprofit youth project is planning a new field trip for the Food Sovereignty interns this month: a two-night trip to Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota to take part in Public Lands Day on Saturday, Sept. 23. During this special event, the interns will take part in efforts to restore the native tallgrass prairie through collecting native plant seeds and removing invasive non-native species.
“It’s going to be a full day,” Widow said. “We’re planning to incorporate additional elements such as indigenous plant knowledge and pipestone quarrying, as well.”
Offered through the youth project’s Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Institute & Art Park, the Art Internship program allows teens to explore graffiti and street art, fine art, commercial art and traditional Lakota arts while also providing resources for advanced arts education and professional development. According to Wakinyan Chief, CRYP’s arts manager, the art interns’ first field trip will take place on Saturday, Sept. 16. They will visit the South Dakota Art Museum at South Dakota State University in Brookings.
The museum is currently hosting an exhibit titled “Dakota Modern: The Art of Oscar Howe,” which is ending its national tour in Brookings. A Yanktonai Dakota artist, Howe passed away in 1983.
“One of the 20th century’s most innovative Native American painters, Howe committed his artistic career to the preservation, relevance and ongoing expression of his Yanktonai Dakota culture,” notes the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in a statement. “He proved that art could be simultaneously modern and embedded in customary Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Seven Council Fires) culture and aesthetics — to him there was no contradiction.
“Howe challenged the art establishment’s preconceptions and definitions of Native American painting,” the museum’s statement continues. “In doing so, he catalyzed a movement among Native artists to express their individuality rather than conforming to an established style that limits artistic expression. His legacy of innovation and advocacy continues to inspire generations of Native artists to take pride in their heritage and resist stereotypes.”
“I really want to show our youth Oscar Howe’s exhibition because it’s powerful and inspirational work, but also because it’s an opportunity to see an exhibit entirely dedicated to a successful Native artist from the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ,” said Wakinyan Chief, CRYP’s art manager. “I hope they walk away with inspiration for their own artwork and their future careers as professional artists.”
On this trip, the art interns will be joined by members of CRYP’s 2023-24 cohort of Lakota Art Fellows. CRYP created this fellowship in 2019 so it could provide opportunities for teens on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation who complete multiple internships and have an interest in pursuing careers in the arts.
Finally, CRYP will continue Midnight Basketball on a monthly rather than weekly schedule through the fall months. The next installment of MBB will take place on Friday, Sept. 15 from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
“We’ll have door prizes and special games such as Lightning and 3-on-3 Tourney,” Widow said. “We want to remind our teens that the Eagle Butte is enforcing a 10 p.m. curfew, so if you leave Midnight Basketball, you have a grace period of 15 minutes to get home.”
Midnight Basketball is open to youth ages 13-18 and regularly attracts 50 to 100 teens. Created in 1996, the program gives Cheyenne River’s young people a safe, positive, drug- and alcohol-free environment to play their favorite sport, hang out with friends, get something to eat, and stay up past curfew. It also helped build the foundation for the youth project’s robust wellness programming.