This October and November, the Cheyenne River Youth Project hosted five 15-hour Lakota Culture Camps through its new Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Lakota Youth Arts & Culture Institute. Forty-five 13- to 18-year-olds completed the camps, which were made possible through grants from NEA ArtWorks, ArtPlace America, South Dakota Arts Council and TECA.
The camps gave Cheyenne River teens the opportunity to learn a variety of traditional Lakota arts, with accomplished native artists serving as guest instructors. The young people made star quilt pillows with Bonnie LeBeau, hand drum sicks with Austin Red Dog, storytelling paintings with Alexis Estes, moccasins with Jozee Campos, and ribbon skirts with Jolee Clark.
In addition to exploring this vibrant assortment of Lakota arts, the teens also received stipends for completing all 15 hours of their chosen camps.
“As we often remind our children, there is no word for art in Lakota,” says Jerica Widow, youth programs director. “Art is life. So, by engaging in the arts, they’re strengthening their connections to Lakota culture. They’re celebrating who they are by telling their stories, expressing themselves creatively, and developing their own artistic identity and voice. It’s exciting to witness, and we’re so proud of them.”
CRYP staff also used the camps to gauge the teens’ interest in future art internships at the Cokata Wiconi teen center, as well as in a potential nine-month Lakota Arts Fellowship. The camps not only offer a glimpse of the creative experiences the teens would have as interns, they also emphasize what is required of all CRYP teen interns in terms of attendance, attitude, and successful completion.
Other teen internship programs include social enterprise, native food sovereignty, native wellness and indigenous cooking. The art internships are unique in that they fall underneath the Waniyetu Wowapi umbrella. CRYP formally established this innovative arts and culture institute in 2016, seeking to give the community’s young people a wide variety of opportunities to learn contemporary and traditional arts, explore their creative interests, and express themselves in positive, healthy ways.
The institute’s structure allows CRYP to bring in a variety of guest instructors throughout the year, from world-class graffiti and street artists, to fine-art specialists, to experienced Lakota artists and craftspeople.
“We’re so honored to be working with these people,” Widow says of the Lakota Culture Camp guest instructors. “Not only are they talented and highly respected native artists, they really stepped up to help our youth learn. That means so much to us.”
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.