On Thursday, February 5, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® will kick off its annual Winter Book Club in the Cokata Wiconi (“Center of Life”) teen center’s library. Youth Programs Director Tammy Eagle Hunter and Youth Programs Assistant Floyd Braun will lead club sessions through late March, also offering three milestone celebrations and a special spring field trip to Harney Peak in the Black Hills.

For the first time, participants will have two Winter Book Club programs from which to choose. In the “Education & Culture” program, the teens will read My Indian Boyhood by Luther Standing Bear. The book will be broken into chapter groupings, and at the end of each grouping, participants will write a single-page, three-paragraph essay.

“The ‘Education & Culture’ group really will have more of a college prep focus,” Eagle Hunter explained. “We want our young people to be better prepared for college or trade school, so Floyd will be teaching APA style. In the weeks to come, as they digest and discuss this important book, our teens also will learn about footnotes, citing sources, all the details required in academic writing.”

Braun’s group will meet once per week for five weeks, and it’s limited to five members.

Eagle Hunter will lead “Native American Literature” sessions twice per week for seven weeks, and it’s also limited to five teens. Her group will read The Grass Dancer by Susan Power, The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich, and Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie, and they will participate in group discussions, activities, quizzes, and essay-writing.

After Eagle Hunter’s teens have completed each book, and after Braun’s teens have completed each chapter grouping and related essay, they will all come together to celebrate their achievements with a milestone party.

Each milestone party will involve a special cooking class, incorporating nutritious, organically grown vegetables from CRYP’s 2-acre, pesticide-free Winyan Toka Win (“Leading Lady”) garden. During the three parties, the teens will learn to make healthy homemade pizza, nachos, and teriyaki stir-fry with brown rice.

Best of all, teens who complete the entire Winter Book Club program will travel to Harney Peak in the Black Hills for the “Welcome Home Wakinyan Oyate” ceremony in late March. The ceremony welcomes back the Wakinyan, or Thunder Beings, as winter draws to a close. In Lakota tradition, Harney Peak is the home of the Wakinyan.

Eagle Hunter said this is an ideal conclusion for the Winter Book Club, which seeks to do even more than encourage literacy among Cheyenne River teens.

“For all of us at CRYP, the Winter Book Club is about sharing healthy practices and positive lifestyle choices, teaching important job and life skills — things like narrative writing, constructive discussion and debate, and simply defining and articulating a viewpoint — and, perhaps most importantly, connecting with Lakota culture and heritage.

“Hopefully, we have chosen titles that will give our teens wonderful opportunities to engage in conversations that feel relevant to them,” she added, “and the trip to Harney Peak will be a major highlight of their new year.”

The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.