Earlier this month, the Cheyenne River Youth Project hosted its first Summer Lakota Camp in partnership with Generations Indigenous Ways. The camp took place on Aug. 3-6 near Green Grass, South Dakota; it was the second installment in CRYP’s seasonal Lakota Camp program on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

This new program gives young people vital opportunities to strengthen the connections they have with their traditional culture as well as with the natural environment. Spring Lakota Camp, the inaugural event, took place in April.

“We strongly believe that the seasonal camps are important next steps for us,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “Not only are culturally relevant programs essential for working with Lakota youth, such programs teach us how to be a community again, using our culture as a powerful foundation. 

“Plus, it’s good for all of us, staff and youth alike, to detach from technology, spend time together, strengthen our connection to nature, and reclaim our homelands as Lakota people. These are all vital pieces for our health and wellness. Along the way, we’re also teaching our kids how they can help protect our precious grasslands for future generations.” 

During each camp experience, Lakota youth have opportunities to learn about the Great Plains ecosystem, plant identification, traditional Lakota star knowledge, the principle of Mni Wiconi (Water is Life), and more. It’s also incorporates activities such as hiking, swimming, and even obstacle courses.

“We sleep in tipis while we’re at camp, so the kids also learn how to raise them and take them down,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s programs director. “While they’re in their tipis, we encourage them to write or draw in their journals. Their words and artwork convey what they see and learn during each day — and when they share those entries with us, we understand how significant these experiences really are for them. Camp can be life-changing.”

The youth project will be scheduling additional Lakota Camps this fall and winter. Once the first year’s pilot project is complete, the CRYP staff will develop a new schedule for 2023. While each camp is limited to 15 participants at present, Widow said she anticipates the number of open slots will grow in the new year.

“We’re grateful for the partnership with GIW, because they have provided such valuable support as we grow in this new initiative,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s programs director. “We want to keep the camps small while we’re learning, but as the initiative evolves, we will be able to accept more campers. We’re looking forward to that.

“We also offer our heartfelt thanks to the Nike N7 Fund, Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation, the National Recreation Foundation, the Opportunity Youth Forum (part of the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions), and the John T. Vucurevich Foundation for their support,” she added. “Together, they helped us bring this program to life.”

Generations Indigenous Ways is a community-based Native nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering American Indian youth with the knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education enhanced by Oglala Lakota values and way of life using Indigenous Sciences. It provides year-round education programs for American Indian students from the large land base of the Seven Council Fires, which covers the state of South Dakota. To learn more, visit www.giways.org. 

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 is dedicated to giving our Lakota youth and families access to the culturally relevant, enriching, and enduring opportunities we need to build stronger, healthier communities and a more vibrant future together.