The nonprofit Cheyenne River Youth Project has provided arts programming to Lakota children and teens for nearly 35 years. A critical component of this programming is providing the young people with access to traditional Lakota artists and culture bearers. 

One of these artists is Robert Tiger, an Eagle Butte-based artist who has worked with materials such as abalone, conch and buffalo bone for many years. On Aug. 26-27, CRYP invited Tiger to mentor three 15- to 18-year-olds in a Buffalo Bone Medallion Workshop. 

During the workshop, the art students listened to stories and learned about traditional Lakota symbols and colors. They chose colors that had strong personal significance for them, and they created designs to put on their own medallions. 

“The designs were so deeply personal and significant, one of our youth artists has been wearing his medallion daily,” said Wakinyan Chief, CRYP’s art manager. “He even wore it to his Art Internship orientation.” 

Buffalo bone medallions were almost a lost art. In fact, when Tiger wanted to learn this art form, he said he couldn’t find anyone to teach him; instead, he taught himself, embarking on a painstaking process of trial and error. 

Over time, he learned how to increase his efficiency and precision. Today, he is able to share his methods with the young people he teaches, and his workshops involve broader cultural discussions as well. 

“Robert explained the importance of the buffalo, the Pte Oyate and Pte San Win, which are responsible for the origin of our traditions and all of our ceremonies,” Chief said. “He stressed the importance of respecting and protecting our women and children. He shared the importance of our traditional symbols, and the significance of colors and what they represent.”

Tiger said he would like to see Lakota youth internalize these lessons and pass them on to future generations. He also hopes the young people will build and refine these valuable skills so they, too, can create beautiful pieces of culturally significant work, support themselves in an art career, and preserve the art form for future generations.

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.