EAGLE BUTTE, SD (Feb. 26, 2024) — The new year is off to a busy start for three youth leaders at the Cheyenne River Youth Project. Not only did they have the opportunity to attend South Dakota’s State Tribal Relations Day in Pierre, South Dakota, on Jan. 10, they recently participated in the Center for Native American Youth’s Champions for Change Week in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 12-16. 

All three are participants in CRYP’s seven-month Growing Into Wowachinyepi leadership program: Hazariah Condon, 16; Nation Cowins, 16; and Wambli Gleska Quintana, 18. Condon and Cowins are both enrolled members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, while Quintana is a member of both CRST and the Navajo Nation.

State Tribal Relations Day

CRYP and the GIW youth leaders were invited to attend State Tribal Relations Day by David Flute, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations. Secretary Flute is an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. 

“He met our students in fall 2023 and was inspired by their stories,” recalled Jerica Widow, CRYP’s programs director. “During our visit, he presented our young leaders with a certificate of commendation from the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations.” 

While they were in the South Dakota State Capitol, the youth leaders had opportunities to hear tribal leaders and youth speak about issues important to their communities. They also engaged directly with the public, answering questions about CRYP, the GIW program, and Cheyenne River.

“When we got the award, I felt appreciated,” Condon said. “I’m really quiet and have social anxiety, so this experience helped me — people approached me and spoke to me first.”

Cowins said he was nervous too. One highlight for him was meeting Red Dawn Foster, the South Dakota state senator serving the 27th district, which includes the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She is member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Navajo Nation.

“She told us she’s excited to see what we do in the future,” Cowins recalled.

Quintana said he is glad Secretary Flute invited CRYP. He also is grateful that he had an opportunity to speak to the crowd.

“I’m very happy we all shared our stories,” he said. “It was a sigh of relief when I heard my peers’ stories, knowing we all went through similar situations. I am proud of them for overcoming those obstacles.” 

CNAY Champions for Change Week

Just one month later, the three youth leaders attended CNAY’s Champions for Change Week in Washington, D.C. Quintana was one of five individuals selected from a nationwide pool to join CNAY’s 2024 Champions for Change team.

For Quintana and his fellow Champions, the weeklong recognition event in Washington, D.C. kicks off a yearlong working relationship with CNAY, a policy program of the Aspen Institute. The week is designed to provide an initial platform for champions to amplify their leadership stories, share their platforms, and benefit from resources that will help develop their advocacy skills.

“A major highlight of Champs Week was getting to meet my fellow Champs,” Quintana said. “Getting to hear about their work was truly inspirational, and having them as a family now is even better.”

According to Julie Garreau, CRYP’s chief executive officer, the week also provided valuable opportunities for Condon and Cowins. After all, GIW began when CNAY partnered with CRYP in 2017 to create a community-specific program that would respectfully honor and recognize youth leaders on Cheyenne River — and incorporate the Lakota Nation’s unique value system.

“We have a unique outlook on what it means to be a leader and what it means to achieve,” Garreau explained. “At CRYP, we are dedicated to providing the culturally relevant programs and resources our young people need to become effective leaders and culture bearers for our community. The GIW program reflects that. Wowachinyepi means ‘those you can depend on,’ or  ‘those you can trust to lead.’

“Champs Week is a wonderful opportunity for our GIW youth to learn and grow as they pursue their own leadership journeys,” she added. “After seeing Wambli as a CNAY Champion for Change, we hope Hazie and Nation are inspired to apply for the national program as well.” 

The week certainly made an impression on the youth leaders. Cowins said it definitely was challenging to speak up and use his voice in these new settings, but his nervousness soon passed.

“I came out of my shell,” he said. “I joined groups, and I got to know everyone. It also helped to know that they were there for me. Seeing all these Native leaders and Champs really inspired me and made me want to work harder so I can be like them someday.” 

Quintana shared that he also found public speaking to be a challenge, but the sheer amount of love and support during Champs Week helped him overcome it.

“Having Julie (Garreau), Nation and Hazie watching was truly empowering,” he said. “Having my fellow Champions applaud me was very uplifting also, especially since I am a younger individual. They were proud of me, and that support really did help me and is still helping me. I’m so glad I have such a great support system to keep me in check and help me grow.” 

Connecting with Native Leaders

During the week, the CNAY Champs and GIW youth leaders attended the National Congress of American Indians’ State of Indian Nations, where they met Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Ryman LeBeau. They participated in advocacy training with Charlie Galbraith, member of the Navajo Nation, co-chair of the Native American practice group at Jenner & Block LLP, and former member of the Obama Administration.

They engaged in public speaking training with Nick Tilsen, member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and president/CEO of NDN Collective. Then they learned about communications with Jordan Bennett-Begaye, member of the Navajo Nation and executive editor of ICT (formerly Indian Country Today). That was just the first day.

At CNAY’s public event on Day 2, Quintana had an opportunity to share his platform: sovereignty and sustainability. The CRYP group also met Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-NM); Ernie Stevens Jr., member of the Oneida Nation and chair and spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Commission; and “Yellowstone” actor Mo Brings Plenty, member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. And, they attended a joint NCAI/CNAY reception.

On Day 3, the CRYP staff and youth leaders toured the White House and then visited the offices of Sen. Thune (R-SD) and Sen. Round (R-SD), where Quintana presented his platform. They attended the NCAI luncheon, and they even had a surprise visit with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

That evening, Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP (also known as Native Law Group) hosted a dinner for CRYP at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse. This gave the young people an opportunity to visit with founding partners Jeremy Patterson and Rollie Wilson; Patterson is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and is currently serving as CRYP’s board president.

“Getting to talk to Rollie is always such a pleasant experience, along with everyone else from Native Law Group,” Quintana said. “Getting to see them, sit down and eat with them, and have them congratulate me was amazing.” 

The last full day included a visit to see Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba. She is an American tribal leader and former nurse who is the lifetime chief of the Mohegan Tribe and the 45th Treasurer of the United States. 

Next: CRST Tribal Council

The youth leaders returned home to Cheyenne River on Friday, Feb. 16. Next, they will be preparing to attend a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe council meeting in March, during which Quintana will have an opportunity to address the tribal council members.

“Champs Week has given me many ideas and shown me the value of including youth in tribal decisions,” he said. “I plan to introduce sustainable methods to our tribe, not only to protect our land but also our future youth. This inspiration comes from the sheer amount of love and support from the Champs, from CRYP, and from my people.”

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, 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.