The stars shone brightly in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, on Mar. 23. That Saturday, 89 Lakota youth ages 12-18 gathered at the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s Čhokáta Wičhóni (Center of Life) teen center for the nonprofit organization’s 24th annual Passion for Fashion event.

“With our staff, volunteers and special guests, we had 117 people attend this year’s Passion for Fashion,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s programs director. “We haven’t seen numbers like this since 2019, before the pandemic.”  

Called Wačhípí kta Iglúwiŋyeyapi (Youth Get Ready for the Dance) in Lakota, Passion for Fashion helps young women and two-spirit youth prepare for their high school prom in a positive and safe space. As they search for formalwear and accessories, they also have opportunities to strengthen their connection to traditional culture. 

This year’s theme was “Shine Bright Like Your Ancestors.” The festivities began with a hearty lunch and a galaxy-themed cake, provided with support from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Indian Child Welfare program, and a keynote presentation by respected Cheyenne River Lakota elders Renee and Manny Iron Hawk.

“They spoke about the power of womanhood and becoming a woman,” Widow said. “They also talked about taking care of and honoring yourself.”

“There are no bounds of what women can do, especially now,” Manny Iron Hawk told the assembled teens. “You are warriors.” 

“We were just so amazed at all the beautiful young Wikoskalaka,” Renee Iron Hawk said after the event. “And it was lila wasté to see all the beautiful ribbon skirts everyone was wearing… including the staff!” 

Also on hand was Lily Mendoza, co-founder of the Red Ribbon Skirt Society, a grassroots collective dedicated to confronting the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (which also includes children, two-spirit and transgender people). She spoke to the teens about the MMIW movement and its ongoing efforts to raise awareness, support families, and bring loved ones home.

Afterward, the teens entered CRYP’s full-size gymnasium for an afternoon of pre-prom fun. In addition to finding just the right outfit for the prom, each teen also was able to enjoy pampering such as hair styling, makeovers, manicures and pedicures. 

Volunteer Susan Berndt made dress alterations on site, while volunteers Reed Two Bulls, Biana Knight and Tayzia Knight assisted with makeup, hair and nails. Elders Diane Garreau and Candace Lee engaged with the youth as well. 

“This is one of the biggest events I’ve seen, and the girls were so well behaved and respectful,” Lee said.

“We’re deeply grateful to our volunteers, as well as to the many donors who made this event possible,” Widow said. “That includes Troy Ettel of the Ted Turner Foundation, who organized a dress drive in his own community, and the individual donors across the country who sent dresses, shoes, accessories, self-care items and funding. We couldn’t have done this without you.” 

The evening concluded with a fashion show on the CRYP runway. The teens embraced the experience — even the ones who initially were more reserved and shy.

“One of our youth, Meivinni, is super quiet, but she was all over Passion for Fashion, was so talkative and told us how pretty she felt,” Widow recalled. “Another youth, Collins, shook our hands and said, ‘Thank you for all you do and making us feel confident.’” 

“You guys all cheered me on,” said fellow attendee Unique. “I loved it!” 

Others indicated they had such a positive experience, they would encourage even more friends to participate next year. The entire group was in high spirits as they accepted their swag baskets, filled goodies such as beauty and self-care items, and brought the dazzling evening to a close.

The youth project is continuing to accept donations for young people who were unable to attend the Mar. 23 event but still need items for this year’s prom. To learn more about CRYP’s Wačhípí kta Iglúwiŋyeyapi program, and to make a contribution, visit

CRYP accepts donations for Passion for Fashion year round. Always needed are gently used dresses in sizes 4 to 26 (particularly sizes 12 and up); formalwear including tuxedos, suits and ties; jewelry and hair accessories; formal shoes; and makeup and bath sets. Gift cards and cash donations are also much appreciated; staff and volunteers will take the contributed funds and make additional purchases based on need.

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, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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.