For the first time in four years, the Cheyenne River Youth Project will be welcoming youth back to the Čhokáta Wičhóni (Center of Life) teen center for one of its most beloved programs. From 12 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 18, attendees will be able to join CRYP staff, special guests, family members and friends for Wačhípí kta Iglúwiŋyeyapi, which means “Youth Get Ready for the Dance.”
More commonly known as Passion for Fashion, this annual event initially was designed to provide all the essentials young women need for that quintessentially American rite of passage: the high school prom. While it still serves that purpose, the program has evolved over the years to become so much more.
“We are dedicated to helping our young people strengthen the connection they have with Lakota culture so they can live wólakhota, in keeping with our people’s sacred way of life,” explained Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “When our kids come to Wačhípí kta Iglúwiŋyeyapi, they certainly find the formalwear and accessories they need for the prom — but they also learn how they can lean on our heritage, ancestors, stories and values to navigate challenges in their own lives. They build relationships and learn how to accept one another, and themselves, for who they are.”
This year’s event theme is “Emergence,” and it resonates on multiple levels. For starters, this is the first in-person Wačhípí kta Iglúwiŋyeyapi event since 2019; the 2020 event was canceled as Covid-19 took hold across the country, and the next two years involved drive-thru distributions and private formalwear appointments.
“We are in the process of emerging from the pandemic, and we want our kids to understand that we truly see them,” Garreau said. “We honor their sacrifices and their resilience, and it’s important that we come together in a good way so they feel and understand that.”
CRYP staff are working on decorations that will transform Čhokáta Wičhóni into a physical journey through sacred Lakota sites such as Wind Cave. The cave is the site of the Lakota emergence, part of the people’s larger creation story.
According to Garreau, the theme has yet another layer, and it’s one that lies close to the hearts of the entire CRYP team.
“We want to be clear that two-spirit youth also are welcome at Wačhípí kta Iglúwiŋyeyapi,” she said. “This is a safe and welcoming space where our teens can lean on their culture as they embrace their own identities, share their own stories, and work toward a future in which they become who they were always meant to be. A future in which they thrive.”
When the teens arrive at the CRYP campus, they will enjoy a luncheon catered by the youth project’s own Keya (Turtle) Cafe, a few icebreaking activities, and a keynote speech. From there, they will head to the gymnasium where they can choose and try on formalwear and shoes, select jewelry, and enjoy pampering such as hair styling, makeovers and nail care.
Community ambassadors and volunteers will join in the fun, and family members of all ages are welcome to attend as well. The evening will end with a fashion show and swag bags filled with goodies to take home.
“Every year, we’re committed to giving our kids the prom experiences that all American high-schoolers should be able to enjoy,” Garreau said. “This program is about so much more than that, however. We want to provide meaningful opportunities for our young people to learn from leaders and culture bearers in our community, bond with family members, and forge new friendships.
“It’s also about personal empowerment through positive body image, improved self-confidence, and deep connection with our Lakota culture,” she continued. “That culture provides a strong foundation that will serve them well all their lives.”
For this year’s event, the youth project needs new and gently used dresses and other formalwear, shoes, jewelry, hair accessories, makeup, bath sets, gift cards, and cash donations. Staff and volunteers will take any contributed funds and make additional purchases based on need. CRYP is hoping to have all donations in house by Mar. 11 so the staff will have a full week to prepare for the event.
To make in-kind or financial contributions to CRYP’s Wačhípí kta Iglúwiŋyeyapi program, visit lakotayouth.org/give.
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 www.lakotayouth.org. 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.