EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. – On May 7 and 8, the Cheyenne River Youth Project sent a panel of young people to participate in the Wowicala “Belief” Youth Wellness Conference at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Prairie Knights Pavilion in Fort Yates, N.D. CRYP Youth Programs Director Alexandra Meador and Youth Wellness Coordinator Wiyaka Chasing Hawk accompanied panelists R. J. Lawrence, Shane Bad Warrior, Nicole Norman and Jenna White Feather.
According to Chasing Hawk, this was the first time the annual conference incorporated a youth panel.
“In April, Nola Taken Alive, the youth counselor from the Chemical Prevention Program in Fort Yates, told me that the conference was inviting CRYP to form a panel and prepare a PowerPoint presentation to describe our project and where we come from.”
He said the youth panelists had to meet four criteria: They had to come to CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi Teen Center on a regular basis, have some experience in public speaking, participate in events at the teen center that relate to culture and language and have potential to become effective communicators. Lawrence, Bad Warrior, Norman and White Feather fit the bill.
On May 7, the Cheyenne River youth registered for the conference and received T-shirts, and local area schools began arriving at the pavilion – Sitting Bull School, Standing Rock High School, McLaughlin High School and Solen High School.
Dana Lee Jetty of the Spirit Lake Dakota, who addressed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in February on the subject of youth suicide in Indian country, made a PowerPoint presentation. Stephanie Jerome of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and owner of Platinum Talent Agency and Indigenous Talent Network, illustrated the forms and techniques of model runways; both organizations are committed to seeking indigenous talent for paid work across the United States and Canada. And Shannon Cameron and Christy Iron Eyes of Standing Rock Higher Education described the process of pursuing higher education, detailing programs and available funds to assist young people after high school.
That evening, all participants enjoyed a youth dance with “Culture Shock Camp & RSBK,” performing artists from Oklahoma. During the dance, KLND Radio was broadcasting from the lobby and interviewed several youth.
“Lawrence and Bad Warrior were able to go on live to give shout-outs and tell about that day’s youth conference events,” Chasing Hawk said.
The next day, the youth panels made their presentations. CRYP was the second youth panel, appearing after a group from the Rosebud Reservation. The panelists addressed several key questions: What are the challenges the youth face on the Cheyenne River Reservation? What are some of the successes and positives of the youth project on the reservation? What are some of the activities and events that help retain Lakota culture and language?
“Alex and I had prepared the youth by asking them these same questions and having them write down their answers in a notebook to rehearse them,” Chasing Hawk said. “I told them that they are not only representing their families but the entire Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the four bands that are on the reservation. We are representing the chairman, Chief Big Foot and our ancestors that were massacred at Wounded Knee, as well as the youth that were not selected to come.”
Meador initiated the CRYP presentation by showing a DVD with Cheyenne River Youth Project and reservation images.
Norman spoke about CRYP’s recent fundraiser games, describing how she volunteered and how that is a form of retaining the culture; helping each other is in keeping with the seven Lakota values. Next, White Feather discussed the challenges the youth face – and how parents do not realize the effect their lifestyles have on their children. Bad Warrior addressed the activities and events in which he was involved that helped retain Lakota culture; he specifically discussed April’s Okiciyapi Run and how he applied three of the seven Lakota values that day. Finally, Lawrence talked about being an entrepreneur and how he sees business opportunities on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
“Our presentation will be remembered,” Lawrence said. “It set a precedent for all future youth panels. In particular, suicide is not just Standing Rock or Cheyenne River. It’s everywhere, and something must be done. Also, people who heard the presentation will want to come and see the Cheyenne River Youth Project and how we can help others be successful in their communities.
“Maybe we could host a conference here in Eagle Butte in the future. The conference taught me a lot about the benefits of communication.”
“Overall, I’m very proud of the youth panel,” Chasing Hawk said. “They represented the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe very well.”
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit CRYP’s Web site. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, visit the youth project’s new Facebook page.
The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River Reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.