The Cheyenne River Youth Project is proud to introduce its third cohort of Lakota Art Fellows: 11th grader Julia Lesmeister, 10th graders  Journey Grey and Haylee Wells, and 9th grader Jayson Little Wounded. The teens’ nine-month journey will conclude next July at the 9th annual RedCan invitational graffiti jam.

During the innovative Lakota Art Fellowship program, the young people will be able to develop their skills in a variety of disciplines with the support of art instructors and mentors from the Lakota Nation and across the country. These disciplines include graffiti art, digital arts, traditional arts, stenciling, graphic arts, and screen printing. 

They also will learn about the business side of art, with classes in public speaking, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and merchandising. A final — and vital —component of this arts education is traveling to visit art institutions and public art installations in other communities to learn firsthand how art can have a meaningful impact and even foster healing.

This fall, Fellows Jayson Little Wounded and Haylee Wells had the opportunity to do just that. On Nov. 3-6, they traveled to Minneapolis with Art Manager Wakinyan Chief and Internship Manager Morgan Robinson for two days of immersive art and urban adventure.

Chief said CRYP is dedicated to investing in the future of Lakota youth, and the trip to Minneapolis is just one piece a larger puzzle.

“It’s common during our formative years to be asked by adults, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’, but rarely does anyone take us seriously or do anything to help us turn our dream into reality,” he explained. “When we asked our Fellows about the careers in the arts they wanted, we took their answers very seriously. As we crated the curriculum, we sought out professionals and experts in those fields to provide our kids with as many resources as we can. They deserve individualized road maps to success.

“Learning in a classroom is limiting, and growing up in an isolated reservation community can be limiting too,” he continued. “When we take our Fellows on field trips, we want to open their eyes and show them the possibilities, giving them a plethora of experiences from which to draw inspiration.”

In Minneapolis, the kids were able to meet professionals who have their dream careers, and gain insight into what it actually takes to make these dreams a reality. Chief said Wells wants to become a tattoo artist, while Little Wounded seeks to become a sportswear fashion designer. 

On the first day of the trip, the CRYP group visited Nokomis Tattoo, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and Rebel Ink Printing. 

“At Rebel Ink, the Fellows got to see the screen printing and embroidery processes up close,” Chief said. “John Allen demonstrated the machinery he uses to make clothes, and he gave us T-shirts, sweatshirts and stickers. He even used a laser cutter to cut out Haylee’s and Jayson’s names for them to bring home.”

On the second day, the group visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art. At the institute, they explored art from a variety of cultures and time periods, including painting, sculpture, clothing, masks, mandalas, and Samurai and European suits of armor.

Afterward, they visited Thermal Vision and learned more about artist Topher’s entrepreneurial journey in the fashion world. Chief noted that the teens appreciated Topher’s advice and perspective, as well as his style.

“In addition to all the learning experiences, our kids also were able to make lifelong memories,” he added. “They tried so many different foods in the city. They created inside jokes. They built relationships, and they had fun.” 

CRYP created the Lakota Art Fellowship in 2019 so it could provide opportunities for teens on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation who have an interest in pursuing careers in the arts, and who have completed multiple internships through the nonprofit youth project’s Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Institute & Art Park.

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 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.