This fall, the Cheyenne River Youth Project commemorated two special milestones. It celebrated its 35th anniversary at the annual Harvest Festival Dinner in October, and the 10th anniversary of its Teen Internship Program at the annual Wakanyeza Wopila Pi (Thanks for Kids) Dinner in November.

The Wakanyeza Wopila Pi celebration included a hearty community meal, children’s activities, drum songs from Wakinyan Maza, and a special honoring for CRYP’s current and former teen interns. Staff members presented a slideshow for the community, sharing the internship program’s journey from a small pilot project to foundational youth programming on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

The Teen Internship Program has been one of the nonprofit youth organization’s most groundbreaking initiatives. Founded in 2013, it began with just 11 interns and focused on sustainable agriculture through the Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden. Ten years later, the program has graduated more than 2,000 interns ages 13-18 in five internship tracks, and it has distributed more than $1 million in stipends. 

“It’s been remarkable to watch this program evolve over a decade,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s chief executive officer. “It fundamentally changed how we approach youth programming, because as we provide our young people with access to the opportunities and resources they need and so richly deserve, we also are cultivating a strong, healthy, and culturally grounded workforce that will succeed wherever their lives might take them.”

Over the years, that single agriculture internship became a more comprehensive Native Food Sovereignty internship, which also incorporated indigenous foods as well as processing, preservation, and cooking methods. Additional tracks were soon to follow: Social Enterprise, Native Wellness, Art, and Lakota Culture.

These, in turn, paved the way for advanced leadership opportunities such as the Growing Into Wowachinyepi, Lakota Art Fellowship, Youth Advisory Council, and Programs Assistant Trainee programs. Some interns even became full-time CRYP employees. 

“I got my first opportunity to work with CRYP in 2015 as a Native food sovereignty intern,” said Dalton Fischer, CRYP’s facilities and garden manager. “I learned so much about growing my own food; I still remember tasting a fresh strawberry, straight off the vine. I also remember CRYP as a clean, fun and safe environment with a helpful, caring and knowledgeable staff. So, years later, when I heard about the opportunity to become the gardener for CRYP, I jumped!”

Tina Shields recently joined CRYP as a programs assistant. She first attended youth programming at “The Main” youth center when she was young.

“I was a country kid, living almost 11 miles out of town, so I couldn’t go home while my parents were at work,” she explained. “I went to The Main every day. When I turned 13, I started the Native Food Sovereignty internship and learned how to plant, grow and cook my own food. 

“When I was 14, I did the Social Enterprise internship and learned good customer service and how to be a barista in CRYP’s Keya Cafe,” she continued. “This internship really helped me come out of my shell, and I used my $500 stipend to pay for my own school clothes.”

At 15, Shields returned to Native Food Sovereignty with a focus on indigenous foods. Through the internship, she learned about traditional Lakota foods and how to use them in meal preparation; this time, her stipend covered school clothes as well as her phone bill.

“All of these experiences hold places in my heart, as I felt safe and comfortable being myself here at CRYP,” she said. “I made a lot of friends, and I wanted to come back and work here because I really believe in helping our community and the next generation here on the reservation. I want to make a difference.

“Not everyone has somewhere to go when they need it, and I’m happy to say CRYP has been my outlet,” she added. “Without the internships, I would have had to learn so much on my own. I also would not be able to pass down my knowledge to the younger kids, which I do every chance I get.” 

In addition to Fischer and Shields, Programs Assistant Noah Mestes also is a former intern. What’s more, longtime Programs Assistant Wendell Nezzie Jr. attended CRYP programing when he was a teenager as well.

“We have been creating a circle here at CRYP, and today, we’re seeing the magic that happens when that circle closes,” Garreau said. “We are seeing our young people enter the workforce with confidence, a strong skill set, and a deep connection with Lakota culture and life ways. They are next generation of Lakota leaders and culture bearers, they are powerful, and they are serving as role models and mentors for the generations coming up behind them. It’s an honor and privilege to witness this — they inspire us every day.” 

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.