Cheyenne River Youth Project
On Thursday, November 21, 150 members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe community gathered at the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) for the annual “Thanks for Kids” celebration. Held in conjunction with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Indian Child Welfare program and open free to the public, the evening's festivities included a home-cooked, holiday-inspired meal as well as traditional Lakota drumming and dancing, a youth art activity led by Cheyenne River Youth Project’s teen Lakota Arts Fellows and art interns, and family-friendly games.
“We're so grateful to our family members, friends and neighbors who joined us again this year to celebrate our children,” said Julie Garreau, Cheyenne River Youth Project’s executive director. “Our young people are our heart, our joy, and our greatest treasure. They are the future of the Lakota Nation.”
The evening’s menu featured roast turkey, mashed potatoes with turkey gravy, stuffing, fried green beans, corn, cranberry-orange mash, bread rolls, pies, Jell-O, and Executive Director Julie Garreau's famous bread pudding. Many menu items incorporated produce from Cheyenne River Youth Project's organic, 2.5-acre Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden; once again, Youth Programs Assistant Anthony Potter was in charge of the kitchen, with Cheyenne River Youth Project staff and the Native Wellness teen interns providing valuable support.
Potter and the teen interns also were the powerhouse behind Cheyenne River Youth Project’s successful Harvest Festival dinner in October, which drew more than 230 people to Cokata Wiconi. According to Garreau, these large community meals provide important opportunities for the interns to learn more about meal planning, using and preparing fresh ingredients, and serving the public — and opportunities for the community to learn more about Native Food Sovereignty and its positive impact.
“Native Food Sovereignty is one of our core initiatives here at Cheyenne River Youth Project,” Garreau said. “At its heart is our Winyan Toka Win Garden. Through the garden, we demonstrate how we can provide fresh, nutritious, locally grown food to our community; strengthen that community through producing, selling, trading and sharing our own foods; strengthen the connection to our traditional Lakota culture through planting, harvesting, and caring for the earth; and fight the debilitating diseases and health conditions that are related to poor nutrition.”
Education also is critical to the nonprofit youth organization’s Native Food Sovereignty efforts. Earlier this fall, Potter and Finance Manager Crystal Lind traveled to Taos, New Mexico, to participate in the Taos Economic Development Center’s Food Sector Opportunity Project. This program is designed to educate participants on the many aspects of starting, operating and financing a food-based business.
The duo learned about commercializing food products, food microbiology, how to develop a food safety plan, food business basics, permit categorizing and parameters, good manufacturing practices, product labeling requirements, and marketing strategies for packaging, product design and causes. They also earned graduation certificates for successfully completing the program.
“Thanks to this opportunity, Anthony and Crystal can further develop their leadership roles in our Native Food Sovereignty initiatives and our Social Enterprise initiatives, which include the Keya Cafe & Coffeeshop, the Keya Gift Shop, and the seasonal Leading Lady Farmers Market,” Garreau said. “They also can provide expert instruction to the teen interns in both of those tracks, which helps take their job and life skills to the next level.”
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 lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest Cheyenne River Youth Project news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@lakotayouth and @waniyetuwowapi).
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.