This year’s Native American Heritage Month was a special one for the Cheyenne River Youth Project. Throughout November, Lakota youth ages 4-18 had access to robust cultural programming at both the Čhokáta Wičhóni (Center of Life) teen center and “The Main” youth center.

Programs incorporated Lakota language, values, life ways, songs, stories, and arts. Along the way, young people forged relationships with a roster of talented guest instructors as well as the dedicated youth project staff.

“For us, Native American Heritage Month is not simply an acknowledgment on a calendar,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate the richness of our Lakota culture by actively engaging with our young people and connecting them with the mentors and resources they need to explore their heritage, build new skills, and cultivate a sense of pride in who they are.”

At the beginning of the month, CRYP welcomed Starr Chief Eagle as artist in residence. An enrolled member of the Sicangu (Rosebud) Sioux Tribe, she is a celebrated hoop dancer who shares Lakota teachings and culture through language, dance and song. 

“While she was with us, she gave presentations to our teen interns about the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) and the different styles of Wacipi (powwow) dancing,” said Wakinyan Chief, CRYP’s arts manager. “She also taught our young people about hoop dancing, and she taught our Lakota Art Fellows how to make their own hand drums.” 

Next, guest instructor Travis Harden taught the Lakota Art Fellows and Lakota Culture interns how to make ledger art. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Harden specializes in handmade Lakota arts, crafts and jewelry.

“He taught the young people how to make designs and symbols, which they would later paint on the hand drums they made,” Chief said. “On Thanksgiving Day, our interns learned the story of Pte San Win (White Buffalo Calf Woman) and then made their drums. Travis taught them a new way of weaving a dream-catcher pattern on the back, which I had never seen before.”

The youth artists were able to take everything they had learned about ledger art, Lakota symbols and sacred colors to paint their hand drums. Afterward, they drummed together and practiced singing.

In the Lakota Culture teen internship, the teens also learned what it means to be Lakota and to be an ally to other human beings, as well as to all of creation; the philosophy of Mitakuye Oyasin (We Are All Related); the Oceti Sakowin and Ti Sakowin (Seven Lodges of the Tituwan Lakota); and traditional Lakota values. 

“We talked about what it means to be a good relative, what our traditional values are, and how to practice those values,” Chief explained. “The lack of these values in the world has created such destruction and pain. Returning to Wólakhota (the Lakota people’s sacred way of life) is how we can heal ourselves, our ancestors, our future generations, and ultimately Unci Makha (Grandmother Earth).

“They’ve been learning about our spirituality, our ceremonies, our history,  how they fit into that history by learning where they come from — their Tiwahe (family), Tiospaye (extended family) and Ospaye (band)and how to address relatives using traditional familial terms,” he added. “They each created a family tree and asked their relatives what ospaye of the Tituwan Lakota Oyate they come from. This provides a sense of belonging, and the purpose for learning about Lakota culture.” 

Cultural instruction often incorporated games. For example, the interns learned each other’s names through a game that also required them to practice their Lakota values in the context of public speaking. As Chief noted, they demonstrate their Canteyuke na Wowacantognake (generosity) by sharing their Woksape (wisdom), which requires Woohitike (bravery).

“We’re encouraging them to overcome their fear of speaking in front of others while also listening, sharing, and being respectful,” he said. “We sit in a Hocoka (circle) each day so we are all equal, and we share what we know so we can all learn together. They learn to use their voices. They learn their voices matter. And, they gain experience speaking and teaching about Lakota culture. We encourage them to share what they learn with their relatives.”

During November, guest instructor Wakinyan Peta taught the interns about Lakota Olowan (songs and singing), his own personal journey of healing, and why traditional Lakota life ways are important. And Manny and Renee Iron Hawk worked closely with the interns on Native wellness and the Lakota language. All are members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

“Given the time of year, Manny and Renee worked with the youth on subjects such as winter ceremony and cansasa (traditional tobacco),” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s programs director. “They also taught the teens basic sentences, and showed them how they can incorporate Lakota into daily life.” 

Native American Heritage Month’s cultural activities extended to the community’s younger children in November as well. At The Main, CRYP’s youth center for 4- to 12-year-olds, instructors used watercolor painting to help teach children about seasons and the fall equinox. They also incorporated language and traditional stories into daily activities.

“We would write a Lakota word on the board daily and teach the kids how to pronounce and use it correctly,” Widow said. “We used words like oyate (the people), cante (heart) and khola (friends). One day, the kids learned about the cultural significance of bears, creating paper bears while listening to a story.

“As we learned about Mitakuye Oyasin, we wanted the children to learn how to interact as relatives, so we spent time on ‘Get to Know Me’ worksheets,” she continued. “We learned about where we were all from, our families, our interests and hobbies, and our identities. The kids understood that it is important to share so they can connect with, and become closer to, relatives and friends.” 

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.