My name is Lindsey Kircher. I am 22 years old. I grew up in McLean, Virginia, and I graduated from Penn State University in May 2019.

I have always been passionate about art, and I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in drawing and painting. I want to pursue a career as a practicing artist, and I intend to earn my Master of Fine Arts degree in the next few years. 

I also minored in Spanish and Arts Entrepreneurship. I am interested in working with global artists, specifically indigenous artists. This work is important to me, because supporting global artists enables them to live sustainably and preserve their cultural heritage. I hope that I can take what I have learned and apply it toward working with fair-trade organizations that support artists around the world. 

In spring 2016, during my freshman year of college, I took a class called “Exploring Indigenous Ways of Knowing in the Great Lakes Region.” We learned about the worldview and culture of the Ojibwe Native American tribe. The course culminated in a three-week-long cultural immersion experience on the Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake Ojibwe reservations in Minnesota. We attended ceremonies, stayed with host families, and met with many important people in the community, including Dennis Banks, founder of the American Indian Movement, and environmental activist Winona LaDuke. 

This was a very transformative and eye-opening experience for me. The following fall, the No Dakota Access Pipeline Movement began on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Some of my close friends and I became involved with raising awareness about the movement on the Penn State campus. We attended protests in Washington DC, spoke on the local radio station, and held coat drives and other benefit events on campus. That semester we also met with Penn State diversity representatives to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on our official calendar. 

I first heard about the Cheyenne River Youth Project through a member of the art community at Penn State who had previously volunteered with CRYP. I became interested in volunteering as well, as a way to continue supporting indigenous communities and working as an ally. It is exciting to be a part of all the different programs at CRYP that strengthen the community and provide diverse opportunities for the youth of Cheyenne River. 

I’m volunteering with CRYP for a bit more than a month. My favorite tasks so far have been photographing beadwork and star quilts, filling Family Services orders for our member families, and of course, working with the kids. I have enjoyed photographing different Keya (Turtle) Gift Shop items for the online store, because I have been able to use some of my artistic skills towards creating vibrant and attractive photos that will help support the youth project’s social enterprise initiatives. I also enjoy filling Family Service orders because I get a sense of the different needs in the community, and I am able to support CRYP’s role in fulfilling those needs. 

Working with the kids has definitely been a highlight of my time here. The kids all have such unique personalities and interests. It has been so much fun getting to know them individually, and I am going to miss them when I leave! 

I have loved working here because I can contribute my own skills and talents toward enriching the youth programming at CRYP. Teaching weekly dance/gymnastics classes and implementing different art activities have been great opportunities to share my own interests with the kids. Seeing them express themselves through dance and art has been really special! 

I have also loved working alongside so many hardworking and dedicated people. As a recent college graduate, it has been such a valuable experience to work within this nonprofit organization and learn more about what is involved with running the various programs. Between the Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden, Family Services, the Keya Cafe and the Keya Gift Shop, and all the different programs at the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center and “The Main” youth center, everyone does their best to make CRYP a success.

I think that CRYP is important to the Cheyenne River community because it offers enriching youth programs that support children and their families. By providing a safe place for children to play after school, CRYP allows kids to be kids. The Main and Cokata Wiconi enable young people to express themselves and have fun, regardless of whatever may be going on in their home lives.  

I wanted to approach this volunteer experience with an open mind about CRYP and Cheyenne River. I did know that Native American communities are disproportionately affected by high rates of poverty, substance abuse and domestic violence. But being here, I have experienced the Lakota Nation and Cheyenne River life in a way that goes beyond the statistics. I have been impressed by the resiliency, bravery, creativity and playfulness of the Lakota children. I have grown very fond of Eagle Butte. I grew up in a very urban place, so I have loved being part of this small town, where everyone knows and cares about each other. 

I would recommend volunteering at CRYP to anyone interested in learning more about contemporary Native American life and its layers of complexity. Cheyenne River has been my home for this past month, I will miss it dearly, and I hope to come back soon!