Our “Why”
Middle school aged Native youth, one in traditional clothing, spray painting on an art wall

Bridging Healing Thriving: A CRYP Perspective

As Native leaders, our primary focus must be to serve as healers in our community. Our work is medicine.

Why? Because Native people are born with trauma. Colonization severely damaged our connection to our cultures through forced removal, forced assimilation, language eradication, and the criminalization of our traditional lifeways.

Colonization also deeply damaged our connection to our inner selves in terms of our artistic expression, which is essential to who we are. For Lakota people, art is culture, so rebuilding and strengthening that connection is essential for healing.

At CRYP, we know that work must begin with our youth. More than half our reservation’s population is under 18, and they are our future leaders and culture bearers. When we think about our work, colonization is the “why” and our arts and culture programming is the “how.”

Youth Work and Sovereignty

In Lakota culture, children are sacred. Our work is grounded in the idea that we must provide safe spaces for them to learn, play, and express themselves in positive, healthy ways; and also provide access to cultural resources such as traditional values, language, arts and cultural practices, ceremonies, instructors, and mentors.

In that sense, our whole history has been one of creative placemaking and cultural reclamation. We understood instinctively what our kids were craving — and what we needed to do, although we did not know these terms for it at the time. It was the same with racial equity and social justice; we have been speaking about these things for more than three decades.

Throughout our 35-year history, we have always listened to our kids and let them guide us. They are our mentors and teachers, and they have brought CRYP to where it is today.

This is a critical approach for youth work, and it is only possible with sovereignty — the ability to make decisions for ourselves. That sovereignty allows us to be creative, innovative, resourceful and flexible. It allows us to be risk-takers. We have to be, so we can meet the kids where they are.

RedCan was one of those decisions. We knew we had to reach kids. It wasn’t easy, and even our own community didn’t fully understand it at first. But we knew in our hearts that graffiti would be an effective way to engage and connect with our kids.

Graffiti is the largest art movement in the history of humankind, and it was the first global art movement created by youth for youth. It also is an inclusive art form, one that creates a gateway to every other style of visual art.

Kids know what is going on in the world, and our they gravitate to graffiti and street art. A single spray-paint class in Fall 2013 evolved into our public art park in 2014 and the RedCan Invitational Graffiti Jam in 2015. The award-winning event is now in its 10th year.

Our kids are yearning for stronger connections to their culture and healthy, positive ways to find their voices, share their stories and express themselves — although they might not realize it. RedCan proved to be an effective way to open that door.

Graffiti and street art have a gravitational pull for young people. Thanks to the revolutionary intersection of graffiti culture and Lakota culture that RedCan provides, we are building bridges for cultural reclamation and revitalization.

Through RedCan and our related arts programming, not only can our Lakota youth feel part of this massive, worldwide art movement, they also are building and deepening the relationship they have with their own culture, history and ancestors.

Art Encourages Connection

Our first youth center in 1988 was in an old Main Street bar. It was humble, but we transformed it into a safe space for children. We knew that without safety, nothing else we tried to do would matter.

We also made it a positive space, upgrading the building by painting it with bright colors and placing culturally relevant murals on the outside walls. It felt like the right thing to do, and over time, we came to understand that these were significant steps toward healing.

It also was entirely volunteer-run, and often, I was on my own with a ton of kids. One Saturday in those early days, I didn’t know what to do with them.

Since it was around the holidays, I thought an art project might be a good way to connect with them. I told them we would make a tree by tracing our hands on pieces of paper, cutting them out, and gluing them to a big piece of paper we could hang on the wall.

I was the only one with big hands, and one little girl said, “We need more hands!” So we got a few members of the community to help, and in the end, all the big hands were toward the bottom, and the little kids’ hands were toward the top.

It ended up being such a powerful visual, one I have always remembered: Community hands are doing the work and lifting up our kids. Everything we do is for them, and it is a celebration of them.

It was healing for me, too. Here on Cheyenne River, we are all born into trauma.

I am the great-granddaughter of a survivor of the Wounded Knee massacre, who saw her entire family slaughtered; even the baby she carried on her back was shot and killed. I also am a survivor of the boarding school era, and I remember being beaten simply for dancing.

Perhaps that is why I have dedicated my life to our Lakota children. I am those rez kids, and they are me. And we all carry the heavy weight of our history.

In a way, CRYP is essentially the opposite of the boarding schools. They tried to tear us down, abuse us, and destroy our culture and identity. CRYP creates safe, creative spaces for healing — youth come here to find their identity and build a meaningful, lasting relationship with language, heritage and traditional life ways.

Art is a Catalyst for Processing and Healing

We had one young girl who lost her grandma, and when she came back to CRYP, she did an art project — she created a picture of the funeral. It was her way of processing this difficult time in her life, and her grief, through art.

One of our young men who signed up for the teen art internship wouldn’t say anything when he came to class. He would participate, and he would complete his projects, but he would not speak.

Six weeks later, however, as the classes came to an end, he was speaking up and actively engaging. It took time for him to feel safe and comfortable, and art was a catalyst for that process.

In the nonprofit world, the impact of work like this is too frequently broken down into numbers. Here at CRYP, however, our children have names and faces, and we build and nurture our relationships with them over time.

In our work, not all victories involve large numbers. Some of the greatest successes, in our experience, are happening one kid at a time.

Art is Essential for Building a Vibrant Future

When we ask our kids how they feel about participating in our programs, especially our arts programs, the top answers are, “CRYP is a safe space where I can create, be with friends, be myself, be open and honest.” But we don’t often hear what our kids want to be when they grow up.

We hear it more than we used to, but it’s still not enough.

I’ll never forget one boy who wrote, “I don’t just want to live. I want to thrive.”

This is a reflection of where we are as a society, and how we have engaged with Native people. We hear a lot of conversations about surviving, but are we thriving?

How Public Health Agencies Can Help

Government has always done things a certain way, but that doesn’t mean it has to continue to do them that way. Going forward, public health agencies must find new ways to work with the communities they’re supporting.

Be collaborative, trust us, and move away from the idea that poor people can’t manage money or do this work on our own. We do have a different concept of wealth, but we understand the importance of financial resources and being good stewards of those resources.

Our kids need three things: safety, culture and access. We can provide the first two, but we need access to opportunities and resources — as well as partners who trust us to do our work.

Government public-health agencies must also revisit the expected time necessary to do this work. Too often, funding cycles are one to three years. Yet it took hundreds of years to get to the situation we have right now.

We need to reduce the burden placed on small, grassroots, nonprofit organizations in terms of reporting and deliverables. They can be overwhelming, and they also come from a colonial mindset — government authorities telling us what to do and how to do it.

Historically, governmental giving has been too much of a machine. We need to bring humanity back to it.

It’s not just about giving money, which cannot solve every program by itself. In our communities, we need trust-based, heart-centered, low-touch giving and long-term investment designed to effect lasting, transformative change.

Whether you’re discussing transportation, health care, education or the environment, new initiatives in our communities must incorporate arts and culture. And, you must work closely with our communities to ensure cultural elements are appropriately integrated — especially language, storytelling and traditional values, which are tools in our toolbox for healthy living.

And, we must start with our youth. Investing in them IS community development work, because they are the future. Then, let our communities lead the way. We know what we need to do to heal, and to thrive.

Explore About Section

Mission & History

In 1988, Julie Garreau and a group of volunteers founded CRYP in a defunct bar on Eagle Butte’s Main Street. We’ve come a long way since then. Learn more about our Mission and History.


CRYP wouldn’t be where it is today without our resourceful, hard-working staff members, who routinely go well beyond the call of duty to serve our children, families and community. Learn more about our Staff.

Board of Directors

We are fortunate to have the support of a dedicated group of local and regional community leaders, who consistently offer their guidance as CRYP continues to grow and evolve. Learn more about our Board of Directors. 

Advisory Board

As we pursue our ongoing mission in the Cheyenne River community, and engage with partners across the country, CRYP also calls on a team of valued professionals for advice and expertise. Learn more about CRYP’s Advisory Board.


A core component of our mission is to offer safe, positive, healthy spaces for our young people, families and community members to gather, exchange ideas, learn, socialize and thrive. Learn more about our Facilities.

Honors & Awards

Through the years, CRYP’s efforts have been recognized by a variety of regional and national organizations. Learn more about Our Honors and Awards.


We strive to keep our partners, supporters and friends up to date on all the latest happenings here at CRYP. Click here to see our Publications.


CRYP is dedicated to full transparency. Click here for our latest Financial statements and 990.