The Cheyenne River Youth Project has purchased a nearly 40-acre tract of land adjacent to Bear Butte State Park in Meade County, South Dakota. The 35-year-old, Native-led, nonprofit organization will conduct a private dedication ceremony with youth from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation on Friday, Apr. 26.

This purchase brings CRYP into the contemporary Land Back movement, a generations-old effort to put Native land back in Native hands. For the Lakota people, a major focus has been the sacred lands in and around the Black Hills; the recent documentary “Lakota Nation vs. United States,” co-produced by actor Mark Ruffalo, addresses the theft of those lands and the push for their return.

One of the most sacred places for the Lakota Nation is Mato Paha, now part of Bear Butte State Park. Access to Bear Butte was severed in the late 19th century, when the U.S. government seized the Black Hills and broke up the Great Sioux Reservation into several smaller reservations.

“In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the United States had illegally taken the Black Hills,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s chief executive officer. “U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, ‘A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history.’” 

The court awarded the Lakota people $105 million, but they have refused to accept the money. The Black Hills were never for sale. 

Unfortunately, opportunities to re-establish access to sacred places are being lost rapidly as metro areas grow and land values skyrocket. That is why, Garreau said, she and her team at CRYP knew that this land purchase was the right thing to do.

“Our people have deep roots in this region, yet we have to drive five hours round trip to be here, and summertime lodging prices are astronomical,” she said. “The distance and the cost prevent access.”

“Now, with this land, we have a foundation,” she continued. “We will be able bring our children here for culture camps, internship activities, workshops and physical activities, and we can take them on field trips to other important sites like Wind Cave, Black Elk Peak and Mato Tipila (Devils Tower).”

“Bear Butte is a place with enormous meaning and power for these young people,” said Erik Stegman, chief executive officer of Native Americans in Philanthropy. “I’ve seen firsthand what an important steward CRYP is for their land and the young people in their community. I’m proud of the hard work that goes into an undertaking like this, because I know how much it will mean for generations to come. This is why we need more institutions like CRYP across Indian Country.” 

The property comes with organic certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which Garreau said CRYP will maintain in perpetuity. As she noted, the youth project sees itself as a long-term steward of this precious land.

“Our Native views of investment and wealth are different from Western ones,” she explained. “For us, this is a cultural investment, and it provides wealth in terms of access to Bear Butte and deeper connection to ceremonies and traditional life ways. It is a place where we can care for and protect Unci Makha (Grandmother Earth), and it is a place for cultural reclamation and healing.

“After 35 years of doing our work on the Cheyenne River reservation, we know that strengthening connections to culture, ancestors and sacred places are vital to healing historical trauma,” she said. “This land is a place for our youth to feel the power and depth of those connections as they become caretakers themselves — and, ultimately, find healing.”

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.