On Friday, Nov. 19, the Cheyenne River Youth Project served 186 community members in its annual “Thanks for Kids” dinner. Although this was the second consecutive drive-thru event due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the mood was a festive one as cars lined up after sunset for to-go boxes filled with hot, homemade Indian tacos and all the fixings.

“We’re grateful to our family members, friends, and neighbors who joined us again this year to celebrate our children, even if we weren’t able to gather in person,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “Our young people are our most precious treasure, and they bring us incomparable joy and hope. We were honored to prepare this meal for them, and for our community.”

The free, public “Thanks for Kids” event is a significant one for the nonprofit youth project. According to Garreau, it provides a powerful example of how a Native-led organization can make a statement about the national Thanksgiving holiday in a positive way.

“The traditional Thanksgiving holiday is largely a myth, and it does not acknowledge the centuries of suffering that Native people have endured following the Europeans’ arrival,” she said. “Therefore we do not acknowledge the official holiday here at CRYP. We do, however, wish to gather our people together at this time of year to celebrate that for which we are most thankful — the food we grow, the children we raise and cherish, and our Lakota Nation, which is still here despite every effort to eradicate us. We are here, and we are thriving.”

In addition, the “Thanks for Kids” dinner is the second of two fall events that highlight the CRYP’s Native Food Sovereignty program for the Cheyenne River community.

“Our Harvest Festival dinner and our ‘Thanks for Kids’ dinner both incorporate fresh produce from our Wínyan Toka Wín (Leading Lady) Garden,” Garreau explained. “Our garden allows us to provide nutritious, locally grown food to our community; strengthen that community through producing, selling, trading and sharing our own foods; strengthen the connection to our traditional Lakota culture through planting, harvesting, and caring for the earth; and fight the debilitating diseases and health conditions that are related to poor nutrition.”

These large community meals also provide important opportunities for the youth project’s teen interns to learn more about meal planning, using and preparing fresh ingredients, and serving the public.

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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.