The Keya (Turtle) Cafe and Coffeehouse has been a mainstay of the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s social enterprise initiatives since it opened in 2011. In recent years, it also has led the charge as the nonprofit youth organization seeks to become more environmentally friendly.
In today’s Keya Cafe, customers will find biodegradable to-go boxes in all sizes, as well as biodegradable cups for both hot and cold drinks. The cafe already uses biodegradable trash bags, and as soon as CRYP staff can secure a supplier, it will make the transition to using biodegradable to-go bags as well.
“Here at our campus, we want to be as friendly to Mother Earth as possible,” says Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We’re operating a farm-to-table restaurant, so in addition to serving fresh produce in our meals, we’re also processing and dehydrating various food items to use in the cafe or sell in our Keya Gift Shop. And, we compost everything we can, so food waste goes right back into our Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden to nourish our crops.”
When CRYP opened the doors to Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) in 2006, Garreau and her team envisioned that the facility would serve as more than a teen center—it also would be a true gathering place for the Cheyenne River community. The addition of the Keya Cafe five years later helped the youth project realize that vision.
“The cafe has added a vibrance to this building,” Garreau says. “It’s feels like the heart of Cokata Wiconi, because this is where we gather for meals, storytelling, laughter and fellowship. And those who purchase coffee drinks, smoothies, baked goods and meals need to know that every penny they spend here directly supports our ongoing, culturally relevant youth programming and services, because the cafe is a very important social enterprise for us.”
That makes the Keya Cafe different from any other dining venue on the Cheyenne River reservation. Essentially, it’s a dining experience that allows customers to play an active role in lifting up the community.
Not only does the cafe’s revenue stream support CRYP, which has been serving local children and families for 30 years, the Keya Cafe also is a dynamic, working classroom for the Lakota teens who are working toward completing their Social Enterprise, Native Food Sovereignty and Indigenous Cooking internships.
“The internships give our young people priceless opportunities to learn critical job and life skills, receive essential training and certifications, and gain valuable work experience that will serve them well as they enter the job market,” Garreau says. “In Social Enterprise, they learn how to work as baristas, cooks and wait staff. They operate and maintain a working commercial kitchen, and they manage the cash register and e-commerce, conduct inventory, and create product displays.
“In Native Food Sovereignty, they work in the kitchen as they learn to process the foods they have harvested,” she continues, “and in Indigenous Cooking, they learn about traditional Lakota foods and how to prepare them. There’s always something happening in the cafe, and our kids are heavily involved, every step of the way.”
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@waniyetuwowapi).
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.