This year, teens from South Dakota’s Cheyenne River reservation have had the opportunity to visit sites of major significance to the Lakota Nation with the Cheyenne River Youth Project®. In August, they visited Bear Butte (Mahto Paha) State Park and Devil’s Tower (Mahto Tipila) National Monument, and more recently, they traveled to the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills and Badlands National Park.
The trips were made possible with funding from the National Park Service “Visiting Our Past” Transportation Grant. The grant was made available to native nonprofit youth organizations so they could pursue initiatives that would connect young people to the places of their ancestors and introduce them to the work of the National Park Service, and NPS staff worked closely with CRYP to plan the youth visits.
According to Tammy Eagle Hunter, the trips had both educational and recreational purposes. Not only were the teens able to learn more about the cultural significance of each site, they were able to do some hiking as well.
“At Crazy Horse, we visited the Indian Museum of North America and took a bus ride to the base of the monument, where we learned more about Crazy Horse himself, the history of the monument and the minerals inside the rock,” Eagle Hunter said. “Then we went on to Badlands National Park, where we met up with Jesse Short Bull.”
Jesse Antoine Short Bull, a member of the Oglala Lakota Oyate, is a passionate storyteller, particularly where it concerns is Dakota homeland. He participated in the prestigious Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Disney/ABC Screenwriters program in Santa Fe, New Mexico, co-wrote a short film titled “Istinma: To Rest,” and remains involved with both writing and film. Short Bull also co-founded and continues to work with the Native Youth Leadership Alliance, which provides young tribal college students with a safe place to promote culturally based change.
Short Bull talked to the Cheyenne River teens about the Badlands’ Lakota history and cultural connections, and he led the group on an off-trail hike that involved some fossil-finding.
“The kids loved that,” Eagle Hunter said. “Not only did they have the opportunity to hear the stories, and see the beautiful natural and sacred places in those stories, they could actually get out there and engage with the environment. That gave them a level of understanding they would not be able to achieve any other way.”
Cheyenne River’s teens also were able to learn more about NPS management of the sites. And, they discovered ways to build their own outdoor leadership skills in preservation, recreation and education.
“It was a great privilege to share these experiences with our teens, and to help them strengthen their connections as Lakota people to the power of place,” Eagle Hunter said. “Visits like this give them greater understanding of the stories in their oral tradition, and more deeply appreciate the sacrifices of their ancestors. It’s so important to us that our young people feel proud of who they are and realize that, like their ancestors, they are both resilient and powerful beyond measure.”
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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.