This spring has been a special one for the Cheyenne River Youth Project and one of its treasured young people. On Apr. 4, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council formally recognized CRYP Programs Assistant Wambli Gleska Quintana, 18, for his accomplishments and his valuable role as a future leader and culture bearer for the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation.

On May 7, CRYP honored Wambli and his fellow seniors in a special Senior Honoring ceremony at the Čhokáta Wičhóni teen center. And on May 8, his high school honored him as well. 

Wambli is a citizen of both the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Navajo Nation. In addition to his work as a programs assistant at CRYP, he also is a member of its Growing Into Wowachinyepi leadership program, and he is a former member of its Programs Assistant Trainee Program and Youth Advisory Council.

“Wambli is spearheading the organization of this year’s Youth Advisory Council,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s chief executive officer. “He has taken on the responsibility for recruiting applicants.”

What’s more, he was one of five young people selected from a nationwide pool of applicants to join the 2024 Champions for Change team. A yearlong Native youth leadership program, Champions for Change was created by the Center for Native American Youth, a policy program of the Aspen Institute. 

Throughout the year, Wambli and his fellow champions will receive experienced-based learning opportunities and training in leadership, advocacy, communications and community organizing. Each champion has their own area of focus and will develop an action project that is tailored to their community; Wambli says he is interested in climate justice, and his project will focus on the environment and tribal lands. 

In addition to his role as Champion for Change, Wambli is serving on CNAY’s  Youth Advisory Board. In February, he attended Champions for Change Week in Washington, D.C., where he amplified his leadership story, shared his platform, and developed his advocacy skills.

Also this winter, Wambli attended State Tribal Relations Day in Pierre, South Dakota, and he addressed Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council with his fellow Growing Into Wowchinyepi champions. CNAY partnered with CRYP in 2017 to create Growing Into Wowachinyepi, a seven-month program that is for Cheyenne River, by Cheyenne River. It honors youth leaders on the Cheyenne River reservation in a culturally relevant and respectful way, and it provides the opportunities and resources that teen participants need to build and pursue a leadership journey that is in keeping with Lakota values.

“Wambli is younger than I am, but he is someone I look up to,” said Wakinyan Chief, CRYP’s arts manager. “He has inspired me in my own life, and he gives me so much hope for the future. I’m grateful I got to know him and work with him. He is setting a great example for the next generation.” 

When he is not busy with CRYP and CNAY, Wambli is focused on completing his senior year of high school, where he is excelling academically. He is actively involved in the National Honor Society and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

This fall, Wambli will be attending the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. He is a recipient of the The Gates Scholarship, a highly selective, last-dollar scholarship awarded to outstanding minority high-school seniors who have demonstrated exceptional leadership. Just 300 students nationwide receive this prestigious scholarship.

Wambli says he is excited to begin this new chapter in his life.

“I am pursuing an interdisciplinary degree called Science Technology and Society,” he says. “I will focus on law and policy during the course, after which I intend to go on to law school for tribal and environmental law.”