Although Nation Cowins grew up in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, he didn’t discover CRYP’s youth programming until this spring. He first arrived at Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) in March, and he immediately got involved with the teen center’s native wellness, native food sovereignty, indigenous cooking, and arts programs.

“The different types of programs were appealing for me,” says Nation, 13. “Especially the garden, and cooking.”

At the moment, Nation is busy with CRYP’s teen art internship. He says the internship has been good for him.

“I get to paint outside, and I’m always learning something new,” he explains. “During this internship, for example, I learned to make face masks. What I find most challenging… learning how to draw people.”

The eruption of the Covid-19 pandemic brought many of CRYP’s operations to a halt, but staff members found a way to keep the teen internships going. They did so by reducing the size of each cohort, adhering to strict public health guidelines, and inviting guest instructors to teach online via Zoom.

Last month, CRYP welcomed Nation and his fellow interns to its new learning space in the Cokata Wiconi gymnasium for sewing classes. Under the direction of accomplished native artist Michelle Reed, the young people learned to sew protective face masks for themselves and loved ones; Reed participated remotely, while the small cohort of teens worked at appropriately spaced sewing stations.

Nation says he appreciates the steps CRYP staff members are taking to keep young people safe, from socially distanced work stations to providing plenty of hand sanitizer and masks. 

“They don’t want teens to catch the virus, and they don’t want us to spread it to other people in our community,” he says.

Nation says he’s grateful to have CRYP as a resource on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, because he feels the youth project provides the opportunities and mentorship that teens need to be able to go on to college. Right now, Nation is unsure of his own post-secondary plans; he is interested in opening his own bakery one day.

“What I’m interested in most right now is making masks, and baking,” he says. “My other hobby is painting. What I love about this community is that we are always learning new things. People might be surprised to know that — and that they can start doing new things, too.”