The Cheyenne River Youth Project has announced that this year’s RedCan invitational graffiti jam is officially one for the record books. Nearly 1,600 people attended RedCan 2019 on June 19-22 in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and the grassroots, nonprofit youth organization has commemorated this fifth annual Indian Country event in a special seven-minute documentary film.

Nearly 700 people engaged with the large-scale murals taking shape throughout the city of Eagle Butte on June 19-20, arriving in cars and on foot to watch the artists work. The artists each mentored a local youth during the mural painting, and some also collaborated with local Lakota artists to produce their masterpieces.

In addition, more than 650 people participated in RedCan’s scheduled art activities, which took place in the Dairy Queen parking lot on June 19-20 and in CRYP’s free, public Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Art Park on June 21-22. And a whopping 87 percent of those fledgling artists were young people.

According to CRYP Executive Director Julie Garreau, RedCan has come a long way since its inception. It started small, she says, and it took time to gain traction. 

“We started in 2014 with a test project, a single mural and some youth graffiti-lettering classes,” Garreau recalls. “Then we forged ahead with plans for our first RedCan. That first year, our community members weren’t sure how they felt about these big murals, or about the event in general. I remember telling my staff and some of the artists that RedCan might be a one-time thing. I was wrong.

“This year, crowds descended on all the mural sites, and drivers honked their horns and shouted encouraging words to our artists,” she continues. “Our art park was full to overflowing on the two days the artists were painting there. I remember just watching—seeing kids creating their own skateboards at the Rolling Rez Arts bus, learning to hoop dance with the Sampson Bros, expressing themselves with spray paint on our walls, helping DJ Micah spin tunes on our stage, and laughing their way through field games as new murals came to life around them. In Year Five, we got to see the full-on dream realized.”

CRYP also received valuable feedback from artists and community members alike, regarding the many ways RedCan’s artwork creates an expressive cultural landscape that is transformative for all those it touches. The art, with its culturally relevant imagery and use of the Lakota language, clearly resonates with people and fosters a sense of pride.

“(This is a way to) take your place back,” says artist Dwayno Insano, a longtime RedCan contributor who hails from the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. “To call that land your own again.”

“Community members tell us they deeply appreciate the cultural reclamation and language preservation inherent in the RedCan murals, which incorporate Lakota stories and words,” Garreau confirms. “They tell us the murals make them feel proud to be from Eagle Butte, and that they are grateful for so many important opportunities for Cheyenne River’s young people.

“As one of our artists, Scape, says, RedCan isn’t just about the murals,” she adds. “It’s about all the different lenses that RedCan provides. Kids see all the art classes and workshops, the field games, the skateboard painting, the live music, the hoop dancing lessons, the 5K color run. There is so much happening, and for children, that is radically important.”

During RedCan 2019, hundreds of Lakota children had priceless opportunities to learn from world-class artists, claim their own art spaces, and experiment with styles and images. They explored themes like native pride, community health, and missing and murdered indigenous women. They expressed their thoughts about happiness, strength, joy, contentment, and the power that comes from spray-painting your feelings onto a wall.

And, ultimately, they took vital steps toward becoming their community’s next generation of leaders and culture bearers.

“(RedCan) is the practice that a lot of people hold in theory,” says Scape, a Taino artist based in the San Francisco Bay area. “It’s not textbook. It’s a lived experience.”

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.