This week, the Cheyenne River Youth Project released its first-ever documentary film showcasing the annual Wo Otúh’an Wi (Moon of Giving Away Presents) Toy Drive, which served nearly 1,500 children on South Dakota’s remote Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in December 2019. The nonprofit youth organization also has released powerful community-impact figures for the entire year.
The Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive documentary film, available on CRYP’s YouTube channel and through its Facebook and Twitter platforms, provides a behind-the-scenes look at how this herculean undertaking comes together each year. According to Executive Director Julie Garreau, it also demonstrates that Wo Otúh’an Wi isn’t just about the presents.
“When people think of these drives, they think of kids getting toys from Santa Claus at Christmastime,” she explained. “At CRYP, it’s so much more than that. It’s about fulfilling the precious, unique wishes of each individual child; it’s about our commitment to our traditional Lakota values; and it’s about a community coming together to celebrate and lift up its children.”
That community extends far beyond Cheyenne River’s prairie borders. In three decades, the toy drive essentially has become a nationwide movement to support the next generation of Lakota children, to let them know they are remembered and deeply treasured, and to encourage them to believe that anything is possible.
“So many people come together to make our kids’ dreams come true,” Garreau said. “And they do so in the real spirit of mitakuye oyasin — we are all related. I’m in awe, every year, of the level of dedication and love that we experience here.”
She added, “We’re deeply grateful to the American Indian College Fund, Costello Companies, Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, the students at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, Fairview High School, Fredericks Peebles & Patterson, Friends of Lakota Youth in St. Louis, Haven Middle School’s International Dream Achievers, Lennar Custom Homes, Rapid City Woodworkers Association, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, South Dakota State Girls Volleyball Tournament, Spirit of Sovereignty Foundation, Square, University of South Dakota Native American Law Students Association, and countless individual donors and volunteers for their support. We couldn’t have brought Santa Claus to 1,474 children without each and every one of them.”
As Garreau and her team at CRYP reviewed the impact of Wo Otúh’an Wi, they also reviewed their other facilities and programs to determine overall impact in 2019. The numbers reveal the importance of this grassroots organization to its community.
“We’ve always said that CRYP is special because it’s by Cheyenne River, for Cheyenne River,” Garreau said. “We truly are a grassroots project, and we work hard with limited resources to provide opportunities. We’re honored and humbled to see that we made a difference in the lives of our kids, and in the lives of their families, in 2019.”
Last year, almost 1,100 children ages 4 to 12 participated in youth programs and activities at “The Main” youth center. Next door, at Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life), 372 teens enjoyed dedicated programs created just for them — and 130 completed robust internships in art, native wellness, social enterprise, native food sovereignty, and indigenous cooking.
Nearly 300 families from 20 Cheyenne River communities were CRYP Family Services members, which allowed them to participate in Wo Otúh’an Wi and other major distributions for school supplies, shoes, and winter clothing. They also could access much-needed household supplies and baby items on a regular basis.
The organically grown, 2.5-acre Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden produced more than 7,000 pounds of fresh, nutritious produce during the 2019 growing season. CRYP incorporated that produce into meals and snacks at both centers, menu items in the Keya (Turtle) Cafe & Coffeeshop, and gift items at the Keya Gift Shop; it also made the produce available to the community through the seasonal Leading Lady Farmers Market.
Finally, nearly 1,600 people attended last summer’s RedCan invitational graffiti jam, with more than 650 participating in scheduled art activities. A whopping 87 percent of those were young people.
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 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 (@lakotayouth and @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.