When the Cheyenne River Youth Project began its teen internship program with the Native Food Sovereignty track in 2013, it graduated 10 interns. In late 2021, the grassroots, Native-led nonprofit hit a major milestone: It graduated its 1,500th intern.

As of January 2022, that number stood at 1,526. Throughout the new year, teens will continue to complete internships in Native Food Sovereignty as well as in Native Wellness, Indigenous Foods & Cooking, Art, and Social Enterprise, with a variety of courses taught by Cheyenne River Sioux tribal members of all ages.

“Words cannot express how proud we are of our kids,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s programs director. “They really stepped up, bringing so much enthusiasm and effort to each of the five internship tracks. Most of our interns complete more than one track, and they become an important part of CRYP. 

“They share their perspectives with us as we evolve our programs and activities, they provide valuable support when we host community events, and they serve as positive role models for the younger children,” she explained. “They also take the skills they’ve learned with us and apply them to whatever their aspirations might be for continuing education or employment. We’re always thrilled when our alumni come back to visit and share how the internships have supported them in their lives. Sometimes, they even come back to teach, which is a great honor for us.” 

On Monday, Jan. 17, new internship cohorts began their journeys in Art and Native Wellness. Widow observed the wellness interns are especially excited, as they will attend the 2nd annual Lakota Food Summit at the Holiday Inn-Rushmore Plaza in Rapid City on Feb. 15-17.

“They’ll be cooking traditional wasna, handing out samples, and attending the breakout sessions,” she said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to learn from other Native youth as well as from experts like Sean Sherman, the Sioux Chef.” 

Through Sherman and the other Native chefs, CRYP’s interns will learn more about decolonized foods and enjoy taste-testing opportunities. Keynote speakers and breakout-session presenters will share their knowledge about high-tunnel greenhouses, successful gardening techniques, traditional plants and foods, Native food sovereignty, and more.

Meanwhile, the art interns are taking advantage of CRYP’s ongoing classes and workshops. In January, in addition to taking classes in culinary arts and public speaking, the interns learned to make beaded hats with Genevieve Iron Lighting (pictured here).

An enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Iron Lightning completed several CRYP youth internships during her teen years, including Social Enterprise, Native Food Sovereignty, and Art. An accomplished traditional dancer who shared her story with the world in the popular 2017 documentary film “Lakota in America,” she enjoys teaching Lakota arts such as quillwork and beadwork.

This month, the teen art interns will have an opportunity to learn to make lotions, salves, and balms with respected Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe artist and elder Unalee Howe. Howe works in a variety of mediums, including silver jewelry, pottery, and leather and wool handbags; she designs and crafts all her work.

Originally from the White Horse area, Unalee works today from her saddle shop in Dupree. She has produced a 400-photo installation for the local IHS hospital, served as the art director for Timber Lake Museum spearheading its “Sea of Grass” exhibit, and taught at the local college for 26 years. She also took part in RedCan 2020, and she enjoys teaching art, graphic design, pottery, and more through CRYP’s Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Institute & Art Park.

“We’ve designed our internships to bring together multiple generations on our campus, and to connect our youth with artists in our community,” Widow said. “Cheyenne River is home for both Genevieve and Unalee. We’re grateful to them, and to all our instructors, for their time and for their willingness to share their talents and skills with our teens.” 

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.