This summer, 68 Lakota teens completed internships through the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte: 22 in Social Enterprise, 26 in Native Food Sovereignty, 15 in Native Wellness, and five in Indigenous Cooking. It was a busy summer for the innovative internship program, and now teens are converging on CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) for fall internships in Native Wellness and Art.
The nonprofit youth organization’s ground-breaking teen internship program, which now offers all five tracks on a regular basis, gives teens valuable opportunities to learn job and life skills that will serve them well all their lives. And, as they gain significant hands-on experience, they’ll also continue to grow as creators, mentors, and youth leaders for their community.  
“In 2013, the first year of the teen internship program, we graduated 10 interns,” says Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “To date, our teens have completed 560 internships, and interest continues to grow. We were so pleased to see how many kids wanted to be involved during the summer months.”
This year, thanks to funding from the Northwest Area Foundation, the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Larson Foundation, the J.R. Albert Foundation and Running Strong for American Indian Youth, CRYP staff was able to enhance the curriculum within the four original internship tracks and add Indigenous Cooking as a fifth option. In that track, interns learn about traditional Lakota foods and meal preparation; the interns spend much of their time in the 2-acre, organic Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden and in Cokata Wiconi’s commercial kitchen, which also is the beating heart of the Keya (Turtle) Cafe.
“Cheyenne River is a rural, remote reservation, and our young people don’t have many opportunities to pursue their interests, cultivate new skills, and gain hands-on job experience,” Garreau says. “We give them those opportunities, and help strengthen their connections to their Lakota culture along the way. Traditional Lakota values inform everything we do here.
“Teens who are given opportunities like this, and who receive guidance and mentorship as they navigate those opportunities, are more likely to stay in school, pursue advanced education, and work toward specific career goals,” she continues. “They also are more likely to make positive choices that foster good health and holistic well-being, and become their community’s next generation of leaders, culture bearers and role models.”
Mason Arpan is one of those young people. He discovered CRYP programming roughly three years ago; he already had a fledgling lawn-care business of his own, and when he saw young people working in the Winyan Toka Win Garden, he told his mom he wanted to be part of it.
“The internship really appealed to me, because it would provide educational experiences and an opportunity to learn job skills that could be a part of my life in future internships and jobs,” says Arpan, who went on to complete a Native Food Sovereignty Internship. “I enjoyed learning how to plant and grow food so that, one day, I can start my own garden. I also can help the elderly (with their gardens) and expand my business services.”
Arpan also has completed a Social Enterprise Internship, which allowed him to work in the Keya Cafe’s commercial kitchen—prepping food, taking food and beverage orders, and developing his customer service skills. And, he had the opportunity to work in the Keya Gift Shop; cafe and gift shop are both part of CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) facility and are cornerstones of its social enterprise initiatives.
“I enjoyed working in the gift shop,” Arpan says. “I learned how to market the products to appeal to customers, making sure they all looked professional and organized. What I found most challenging was learning the point-of-sale machine, and keeping up with the customer flow during the cafe’s lunch rush, but I always focused on my customer service skills and tried to smile through the panicked feeling. The other thing I felt was challenging was the interview, but I learned a lot, and it was a good experience that prepared me for my USD Governors Camp Scholarship interview.” 
Arpan says he appreciates the training he has received, including certifications in CPR and First Aid. And, he’s continued to pursue new opportunities through CRYP, including Lakota language immersion classes and volunteering during the annual Christmas Toy Drive. 
“CRYP is special because it offers young kids like me the opportunity to create our job and people skills, so we can build a better future for ourselves,” Arpan says. “The youth project has helped me get ahead of the game. It gives kids a chance to understand what it’s like to have a job, and a lot of kids might not get that anywhere else until they are older. It’s important to the Cheyenne River community.”
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 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.