In partnership with Hopa Mountain and the National Park Service, the Cheyenne River Youth Project sent seven Lakota youth ages 13-16 to Pipestone National Monument on May 21-23. The field trip was made possible through a “Connecting with our Homelands” travel grant, which provides funds for indigenous organizations, schools, and nonprofits to visit national park units across the United States.
Located in southwestern Minnesota, Pipestone National Monument is home to a red stone called catlinite. Native people, including the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota, have quarried this stone for centuries to make ceremonial pipes.
CRYP staff accompanied the teens on the trip. They arrived Friday evening and began their adventure Saturday morning with an off-trail tour of the Circle Trail and a talk from park ranger Gabe Yellowhawk, who spoke about prairie restoration.
“Then we met with two carvers who were creating art and pipe pieces,” said Dawn E. LeBeau, CRYP’s deputy director. “The kids asked a lot of questions. They were curious about how long the carvers had been doing this work, how long each piece takes to complete, and who they are making the pieces for.”
The Little Feather Center prepared a mid-day meal for the Cheyenne River group. The young people offered gratitude to the elders and staff who prepared it, and then they enjoyed eating in a park near the monument. Afterward, it was time for a quarrying demonstration.
“The kids had many questions and were so excited to have a hands-on experience,” LeBeau said. “They asked about the pipestone and how long it took for people to dig down 6 feet to find it. They also were offered a turtle carving class with an instructor, which took about an hour. They were able to bring their turtle creations home, and they were in awe that they could carve these items in such a short timeframe.”
On their second and final evening at Pipestone, the youth quarried with two of the park rangers. Each young person was able to dig and hammer the stones, and ultimately bring home a piece of pipestone from this sacred place.
“Our young relatives enjoyed every part of the process on this trip,” LeBeau said. “I am so proud of them. They were all polite, they engaged with the park rangers, and they helped one another during the tour and the quarrying.”
LeBeau noted that the young people loved the landscape, observing how different it is from home. They loved the waterfalls and took a lot of photos. They brought enthusiasm and interest to learning about the birds they saw, the benefits of prairie burns, the types of plants and insects on the trail, and the day-to-day work of the park rangers.
“We’re hopeful that some of our kids might apply for the summer work opportunity for Native youth that Pipestone National Monument is offering,” LeBeau added. “Now that they’ve had a taste of the monument’s natural and cultural heritage, and the conservation work that is so important, they can build on that with the summer program.
“We’re grateful to Gabe Yellowhawk,” she continued. “Not only for spending time with our young people during this visit, but also for making the trip to our reservation earlier this month to talk with our youth about this wonderful opportunity with Pipestone National Monument.”
Scheduled for June 1-25, the four-week summer work program is open to 15- to 18-year-olds, who will be paid for 40 work hours per week. Four students will be selected; the monument will provide meals and transportation, and South Dakota State University will provide housing.
In addition to learning valuable conservation skills that can be used in the field for future employment, participants also will get an introduction to educational opportunities from SDSU and the Wokini Initiative. For more information about applying, contact Jerica Widow, youth programs director, at (605) 964-8200 or email@example.com.
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 www.lakotayouth.org. 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.