The Keya (Turtle) Cafe and Coffeehouse has been a mainstay of the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s social enterprise initiatives since it opened in 2013. 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 bags and boxes, as well as biodegradable cups for both hot and cold drinks. The cafe also uses cardboard straws, and according to Deputy Director Meghan Tompkins, it also is moving away from plastic bottles this year—soon, it will only sell soft drinks in cans.

“CRYP is trying to be as eco-friendly as possible, particularly in our commercial coffeeshop and restaurant operations,” Tompkins says. “If we can do it in our rural location, anyone can do it.”

Executive Director Julie Garreau also emphasizes the importance of demonstrating these eco-friendly initiatives to the community’s young people. For them, she says, there is a strong cultural component to all of this.

“At CRYP, in everything we do, we seek to strengthening the connection our kids have with their Lakota culture,” she explains. “An inherent component to our Lakota life ways is the desire and need to protect Mother Earth. Not only do we need to show our kids that we’re dedicated to this, we must teach them how to do it—and how to advocate for it.”

At this unique farm-to-table restaurant, CRYP also serves fresh, locally grown, pesticide-free produce; processes and dehydrates some of this produce to use in the cafe or sell in the Keya Gift Shop; and composts as much as possible, so food waste can go right back into the Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden to nourish crops.

Plus, not only does the cafe’s revenue stream support youth programming and family services at CRYP’s Eagle Butte campus, it’s 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.”

All of this 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. 

To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@lakotayouth, @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.