In collaboration with the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, the Cheyenne River Youth Project is bringing back the popular “Growing into Wowachinyepi” program for a third cohort in 2023-24. CRYP announced today that it will accept applications through Sept. 8.

This dynamic youth leadership program will begin Sept. 18 and run for approximately seven months. Five champions ages 15-19 will meet once per week after school during this timeframe, with the exception of December and part of January when CRYP devotes its resources to serving 1,500 children through the annual Wo Otúh’an Wi (Moon of Giving Away Presents) Toy Drive.

Modeled on CNAY’s acclaimed “Champions for Change” program, the Growing Into Wowachinyepi initiative is designed to honor youth leaders on South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in a culturally relevant and respectful way. It also is designed to provide teen participants with valuable opportunities to build and pursue their individual leadership journeys.

“We created ‘Growing Into Wowachinyepi’ specifically for our Lakota youth, in keeping with our Lakota Nation’s traditional values,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s programs director. “We hosted our first cohort here at our Eagle Butte campus in 2018 and our second cohort in 2021.” (Members of the second cohort are pictured here with Sen. Mike Rounds, R-SD.)

The word wowachinyepi means “one who the people can depend on.” CRYP’s five-year-old program promotes that distinctly Lakota view of leadership while honoring and recognizing young people who exemplify their community’s values.

“Our community has its own unique outlook on what it means to be a leader, and what it means to achieve,” Widow said. “For us, true leaders are those who live wólakhota, in keeping with our sacred life ways. Many of our youth take actions every day that reflect that value system, although they may not realize it. We want to recognize their actions, honor them as deeply valued members of our community, and provide meaningful support as they pursue their goals.”

Throughout the Growing Into Wowachinyepi experience, youth participants will take part in trainings that cover policy, leadership, tribal leadership, indigenous values, and public speaking. CNAY is preparing to conduct one of those trainings at the CRYP campus in early October.

In addition, program participants will have an opportunity to visit Pierre, South Dakota’s state capital, where they will meet with officials at the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations, including David Flute, department secretary. Flute is a member and former tribal chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe.

For more information about CRYP’s Growing Into Wowachinyepi program and details on how to apply, contact Programs Manager Jerica Widow at (605) 964-8200 or via email at

And 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.