The Cheyenne River Youth Project announced today that its 8th annual Harvest Festival Dinner is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 8 at the nonprofit organization’s campus in Eagle Butte. This year, out of an abundance of caution, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe community members may pick up drive-thru meals outside Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) between 4 and 6 p.m.

Staff members will be preparing individual boxed meals, and as always, menu items will incorporate fresh, organically grown, local produce from CRYP’s 3-acre Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden. Last year, dishes included pot roast and turkey, mixed salad with vinaigrette, butternut squash apple bisque, corn on the cob, roasted and sautéed squash, sweet potato bake, cheesy yellow squash casserole, dinner rolls, and fruit pies.

“We’re looking forward to our Harvest Festival Dinner, because it really is a celebration,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “During this growing season, we’ve harvested nearly 10,000 pounds of produce, and we still have squash and watermelons to pick. This is one of our best harvests in the history of Winyan Toka Win, and we’re delighted to be able to share the garden’s bounty with our family members, friends, and neighbors.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic erupted in March, Garreau and her team had to close their teen and youth centers to regular daily programs and activities. As the initial shelter-in-place orders shifted into a longer-term partial shutdown, they knew they also needed to shift gears. 

“Instead of focusing on what we couldn’t do, we had to put our energy into what we could do,” Garreau explained. “We learned that so much was still possible, and our kids and our families need us to be here for them. So we’ve worked very hard to stay connected, and to offer as many opportunities and resources as we can.”

In the last six months, CRYP has delivered thousands of free daily sack meals to youth, and prepared countless takeout orders in the Keya Cafe for community members. Staff installed a high-speed internet line, acquired Chromebooks, and transformed the Cokata Wiconi gymnasium into a socially distant learning center, inviting both local and remote instructors to lead classes, workshops, and trainings.

The youth project also continued its teen internships with smaller cohort sizes; supported local families with curbside distributions of food, household needs, and school supplies; and even engineered a virtual version of its award-winning RedCan invitational graffiti jam, broadcasting live from eight cities. And, staff members planted the Winyan Toka Win Garden.

“Our garden lies at the heart of our Native Food Sovereignty initiatives, but truly, it means so much more than that,” Garreau said. “It connects us and our community to our traditional Lakota values, spiritual principles, and life ways. It connects us to Mother Earth, and it’s a powerful symbol of hope.”

Each year, Winyan Toka Win provides fresh produce for meals, gift items, and the seasonal Leading Lady Farm Stand. It also serves as an outdoor classroom for Lakota youth, and this summer, CRYP’s Native Food Sovereignty teen interns were able to join staff members in the garden. (Teen interns pictured here pre-pandemic.)

“Food sovereignty is essential to building healthy, strong, self-sufficient individuals and communities,” Garreau said. “We’re mindful that every step we take here, teaching these young people, will have a lasting, meaningful impact on the future of the Lakota Nation. When our teens care for the garden, and harvest so many thousands of pounds of produce, they understand at a deep level the importance of growing your own nutritious food — and caring for your people.”

To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs — including Wo Otúh’an Wi and Family Services — 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.

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