This spring, five Lakota teens 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.” The program is designed to honor Cheyenne River’s youth leaders in a culturally relevant and respectful way, while also giving participants opportunities to continue their leadership journey.

This month, we’d like to share the story of one of those teens, who we call our GIW Champions. Not only does Oliver “Ollie” Miner, 16, exemplify the Lakota view of leadership and our traditional values, he’s been an active participant in CRYP programs for some time.

“I grew up in Eagle Butte, and I started going to The Main when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old,” Ollie says. “I used to love going to the library, where I could write, direct plays or just read.”

Ollie participated in our first Sustainable Agriculture internship four years ago. He was responsible for planting new seeds, weeding and watering, and working at the seasonal Leading Lady Farmers Market.

“On my last day of work, we had a farmers market during Hometown Days,” he remembers. “I sang karaoke in a banana costume, which was really fun. That summer, I learned that you might not always get along with your coworkers, but you’re a team, and every player has to do their part. Every job I’ve had since then, I remember that. I really did love the fun aspects of it—our instructor was probably the best boss I’ve ever had, and I learned I love to eat raw onions!”

This past school year, Ollie saw a poster advertising the new GIW program, which included an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. in April. His application was accepted, and he embarked on a new adventure with our youth project.

“I enjoyed the trainings we did in D.C.,” he says. “Along with those we’ve done at the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center, they really boosted my confidence, and I’ll always remember the advice we got from staffers on the trip.”

On the D.C. trip, each of the GIW Champions learned to articulate and pitch their individual platforms and learn more about becoming leaders and culture-bearers for the Lakota nation. Ollie’s platform is alcohol and drug abuse; he says he chose that platform due to his own life experiences. 

“I lost a brother and uncle to substance abuse, and both my parents are alcoholics,” he explains. “I want kids to have things to do on the reservation instead of drugs, and I want to lobby for rehabilitation centers to make our people healthy again.

“Right now, we see alcoholics panhandling and drunk in public; most people see that as normal, which I honestly think it shouldn’t be,” he continues. “Also, we’re facing a crisis with meth, and we need to give people help so they can get better. I’m looking forward to making a change in my community by talking with people and getting public input so we can go to our officials and hold them accountable.”

When he’s not busy at CRYP, Ollie enjoys reading about news and politics. He also is committed to learning more about how the tribal, state and federal governments work.

“I plan to study political science in college, and right afterward, begin my political career,” he explains.

He’s off to a promising start: On May 24, Oliver was selected by the chairperson of the Dewey County Democrats to be a delegate for the upcoming 2018 South Dakota Democratic Party Convention. He will be turning 18 years old on the day of the election, which will make him the youngest county delegate. CRYP staff members report that he was very excited.

Ollie says he is grateful for the Cheyenne River Youth Project, because it offers a safe place for young people like him to spend time, with plenty of positive, healthy alternatives to alcohol, drugs and violence. He’s also grateful to his community.

“The thing I love about Eagle Butte is how small it is,” he says. “Everyone knows everyone, and we help each other out.”