It’s always exciting when artists, performers, volunteers, and guests gather at the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, for the four-day RedCan invitational graffiti jam. But this year, after nearly a year and a half of pandemic life, was particularly joyful — especially with the inclusion of a groundbreaking ceremony for a new youth arts center, and a closing performance by the acclaimed Sampson Brothers.
CRYP held its eagerly anticipated groundbreaking ceremony at 12 p.m. on Friday, July 9, in the Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Art Park. Joining Executive Director Julie Garreau at the podium were: Youth Programs Director Jerica Widow; Dr. Karla Abbott, vice president of the CRYP Board of Directors; Peggy Gallipo, longtime board member; Rob Pyatt from Pyatt Studio, the art center’s architectural firm; and Wayne Ducheneaux, executive director of the Native Governance Center.
The event, which kicked off the 12- to 18-month construction process for the Waniyetu Wowapi Lakota Youth Arts & Culture Institute’s new home, was dedicated to the victims of the residential boarding schools.
“We always knew there were babies buried in unmarked graves, but we did not understand the number,” Garreau said. “And it’s far greater than we can possibly understand right now, because there are so many more schools. We have to talk about these children in every circle, and we have to push for accountability. They have been hidden for far too long, but we are coming for them now. We remember, and we will bring them home.”
At the new Waniyetu Wowapi Lakota Youth Arts & Culture Insitute youth arts center, Garreau said, Cheyenne River’s young people will have dedicated spaces to create, learn, and pursue their personal and professional dreams. Located in the heart of the art park, this center also will provide a physical home for RedCan.
Wakinyan Peta, with the local drum group Wakinyan Maza, blessed the ground for the new youth arts center as the gathered crowd looked on. In attendance were the 12 RedCan artists and their family members, the CRYP staff and volunteers, community members, and representatives from Native Americans in Philanthropy, National Recreation Foundation, Vadon Foundation, and Schmidt Family Foundation.
Also on Friday, the Cheyenne River community had the opportunity to view the completed RedCan 2021 murals at an abandoned apartment complex on Eagle Butte’s Main Street. For the first time since RedCan began in 2015, five artists — Scribe, Biafra Inc., Wundr, Cyfi, and Ryoe — collaborated on one massive mural that covers the entire two-story face of the first building. It says “Mitákuye Oyásiŋ,” which means “We are all related” in Lakota. Additional murals cover the rear of the front building and the front and rear sides of the second building.
As always, CRYP welcomed young people of all ages for four days of RedCan-related art activities downtown, and art activities and field day fun in CRYP’s Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park. Hosted by volunteer groups from the University of Missouri at St. Louis and Ohio’s Ursuline College, these activities ranged from creating colorful bee houses and baths and spray-painting skateboards to relay races and water games. In addition, First Peoples Fund’s Rolling Rez Arts virtually led an acrylic muralism workshop for teens.
Minneapolis-based Lumhe and Samsoche Sampson, better known as the Sampson Brothers, hosted a youth hoop-dancing workshop in the art park on Friday. DJ Micah spun tunes for the Lakota Exhibition Dancers, who performed among the tipis the 100 Horse Society helped to raise the day prior. Nearby, young people hoop danced, created art, and enjoyed field day games; the action came to a close with a community dinner hosted by the St. Louis volunteers.
The 12 RedCan artists painted in the art park for the final two days of the event, wrapping up their murals on Saturday. After the youth activities concluded, Wankinyan Maza held the last drum circle for RedCan 2021, and the Sampson Brothers performed for the public on the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park stage. Garreau said emotions ran high on that last evening.
“In the drum circle, we conducted a wopila round dance,” she said. “It included everyone — artists, staff, volunteers, family members, and friends, both old and new. We had three circles dancing around the drum, hands connected, with smiles and tears. When it ended, the applause erupted, and it went on and on. It was as if we were shedding the fear, suffering, and isolation of the last year and fully embracing what is most important. The tight bonds of our relationships, and the love we have for this community and our children.”
For more RedCan 2021 information:
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.