The Cheyenne River Youth Project took an exciting step forward this month, adding a new beekeeping program to its long-running Native Food Sovereignty initiative. Made possible with support from the Whole Kids Foundation, the beekeeping enterprise will empower and educate local youth while also providing a new locally grown food on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

To get started, the Native-led nonprofit organization ordered 1,000 bees from Maine-based Gold Star Honeybees. As the queen lays eggs daily, the number of bees will continue to increase.

“We have wanted bees for a very long time, and we are thankful to local tribal member Grady Kraft, who reached out to us when I posted about it on social media,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s chief executive officer. “He immediately wanted to help us, and it’s been through his guidance and mentoring that we’ve come this far.

“This first step really is an introduction to beekeeping for us,” she continued. “As we learn, and if the bees produce, we will expand the program.”

Not only will the honey be sold through the Keya Gift Shop, CRYP’s signature social enterprise, it will be incorporated into meals and snacks at the “The Main” youth center and the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center. It also will be the center of a new educational offering for young people.

“Our goal is to ultimately get the kids involved in beekeeping,” Garreau said. “We’re looking forward to engaging them in discussions about honey’s medicinal value, its economic value, and its long-term impact on communities through sustainable agriculture. We also want to empower them by showing them how to take care of the bees and how to be a good relative to them, in keeping with our Lakota value system.”

According to the Bee Conservancy, the U.S. honeybee population has declined by a whopping 60 percent since 1947, and bees continue to experience massive die-offs throughout the United States and Canada. A 2019 Bee Informed Partnership survey revealed that nearly 40 percent of U.S. beekeepers lost their colonies during the previous year.

“Bees lie at the heart of our survival, and they have been dying at unprecedented rates,” the conservancy noted. “Their hard work is not only essential to healthy ecosystems, but to sustaining animal and human life too. Bees pollinate one-third of the food we eat.” 

CRYP is now doing its part to support honeybee populations. But that’s not all. According to Garreau, beekeeping also can help strengthen young people’s connection to their Lakota culture. 

“When our kids learn what Mother Earth can do for us, and when they learn how to care for the land and their animal and plant relatives, we are engaging in cultural reclamation and revitalization,” she explained. “The bees are part of that. Restoring cultural health for our young people and our community is at the heart of everything we do here at CRYP.” 

In the short term, the youth project will maintain the beekeeping program at its 5-acre campus in Eagle Butte. Down the road, however, Garreau said she would like to move them to Wakanyeja Kin Wana Ku Pi (The Children Are Coming Home), the youth project’s property adjacent to sacred Bear Butte in rural Meade County.

Wakanyeja Kin Wana Ku Pi is a precious piece of our ancestral lands, and it is certified organic,” she said. “As its permanent caretakers, we are dedicated to preserving it in the Lakota way, nurturing it and even restoring it with the planting of traditional medicines and foods. This is where our young people come to learn about those plants, participate in seasonal cultural camps, and learn about traditional life ways. Ultimately, it also will be an ideal home for our bees.” 

At CRYP, the bees have joined a massive Native Food Sovereignty effort that includes the 49-year-old, 2.5-acre Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden, which produces roughly 10,000 pounds of food each year. Founded by Iyonne Garreau in 1975 and turned over to CRYP in 2000, the garden provides nutritious, pesticide-free produce for youth meals and snacks, community events, and food items available for purchase through the Keya Gift Shop.

Food sovereignty at CRYP is not just about gardening, however. To improve access to traditional foods, the youth project also maintains an orchard to provide chokecherries, leads field trips to harvest red willow and prairie turnips, and is developing a program that would allow youth to participate in a buffalo harvest.

This year’s growing season is well under way, and the staff has launched a fundraiser to support their ongoing Native Food Sovereignty efforts. Both financial and in-kind donations are welcome.

In particular, the team needs: 

Sunscreen for kids

Bug spray for kids

Gardening gloves for kids

Tiller for Kubota tractor

Harvesting tools

Two full-size owl decoys

Bobcat lawn mowers


Gas and diesel jugs (2.5- and 5-gallon)

Potato forks

Weed eaters (2)

Trash grabbers (6)

To make a contribution, visit If you need more specific details to make an in-kind donation, call our office at (605) 964-8200.

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.