This fall, interns at the Cheyenne River Youth Project® had the opportunity to learn traditional Lakota arts at the nonprofit organization’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center. Classes, which included hide tanning and jewelry making, were made possible through a First Nations Youth & Culture Fund grant from the First Nations Development Institute.
Thirteen teen interns attended the hide-tanning class. On the first day, they scraped a deer hide to remove all the fur, boiled the brains, and learned the process of brain tanning. The next day, they scraped the brains off the deer hide, and then they rubbed and worked the hide until it was soft.
Nineteen interns attended the jewelry-making class. They painted on buckskin and learned to fashion the material into bracelets, necklaces and rings.
These interns are all part of CRYP’s Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Art Internship program, which the youth project launched in 2015 along with its free, public Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park and revolutionary RedCan graffiti jam. The innovative teen internships allows young people to learn fine art, graffiti and street art, and traditional Lakota arts. Along the way, not only do they learn about staging exhibitions and the business behind artistic careers, they learn valuable life skills.
“It’s critical that we guide our young people and help them re-establish and strengthen their personal connections to Lakota traditions, stories, values and authentic culture identity,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “Through our arts initiatives and art internships, we’re dedicated to giving Cheyenne River’s teens as many opportunities as possible to explore their identities and share their truths, from their own deeply personal struggles to the Lakota Nation’s experiences with conflict.
“We also seek to share arts-related opportunities with them, from advanced education to professional development,” she continued. “That’s the only way to foster real healing, and to provide a vibrant and more secure future.”
To that end, CRYP is planning additional arts classes and workshops, some of which will allow teen interns to work alongside Cheyenne River’s elders. As Garreau observed, art is not a stand-alone concept for Lakota people, who have always expressed themselves through art.
“It’s an integral part of our lives,” she explained. “Art is culture, and it’s deeply connected to community, so maintaining those connections and making them stronger is critical for us.”
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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.