A couple of months ago, we profiled one of the five Lakota teens who have been participating in “Growing Into Wowachinyepi (One Who the People Can Depend On),” a special program we designed in conjunction with the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute based on its “Champions for Change.” This month, we’d like to share the story of another one of our GIW Champions: Jaymalee Turning Heart, 17.

Jaymalee grew up in Cheyenne River communities of Bear Creek and Eagle Butte. While she did visit The Main a few times as a young child, her participation in CRYP programs skyrocketed when she hit her teen years—particularly when the youth project introduced its innovative teen internships.

To date, she has completed internships in art, wellness, native food sovereignty, social enterprise and indigenous cooking.

“The internships teach so many responsibilities, like coming in on time, having a great attitude, and always being ready to learn,” Jaymalee says. “My favorite probably was indigenous cooking, because we learned about traditional Lakota foods. Through the teen internship program, I was able to complete my First Aid, CRYP and Food Handler’s certifications, which I’ll be able to use all in my life.”

This past spring, Jaymalee got involved in “Growing Into Wowachinyepi,” which has been designed to honor Cheyenne River’s youth leaders in a culturally relevant and respectful way, while also giving them opportunities to continue their leadership journey. Through the GIW initiative, Jaymalee had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. and develop her own leadership platform: suicide prevention.

“Growing up on the reservation, suicide was a big thing,” she reflects. “I lost a good friend to suicide in eighth grade, and last year, I lost my cousin. It was hard. I want to stop suicide on Cheyenne River and in the rest of Indian Country. Suicide is not the answer. We all have something to live for.”

Jaymalee says she is grateful to CRYP for providing Cheyenne River’s young people with opportunities.

“They’re always helping everyone,” she says. “That’s important to our community.”

After her high school graduation, Jaymalee plans to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. And then she’d like to come home. 

“I want to help my people,” she explains. “I love my community.”