Our neighbors in South Dakota are members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in north central South Dakota and members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwest South Dakota.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is a part of the Oceti Sakowin or the “Seven Council Fires” composed of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota speakers. Specifically, it is associated with the Teton band, which is composed of the 7 Lakota bands. The Cheyenne River Sioux tribe is historically associated with the four smaller bands: Mnikȟówožu (“Plant Beside the Stream,”) Itázipčho (“Sans Arc, Without Bows,”) Oóhenuŋpa (“Two Kettles”) and Sihásapa (“Black Feet”).
The Oglala Sioux Tribe is also a part of the Oceti Sakowin or the “Seven Council Fires”. Specifically, it is associated with the Oglala ("Scatter One's Own") band, the largest of the 7 Lakota bands which comprise the Teton band.
Throughout American history, indigenous peoples have been oppressed by the United States government ranging from the Indian Removal Act which forcibly moved Native populations away from European-populated areas to cultural assimilation through boarding schools to the outlawing of Native American language and spiritual practices until 1979. Many of these policies and destruction of culture has left many of our Native brothers and sisters in a cycle of generational poverty, alcoholism, drugs and high mortality rates.
At the same time, this population of people possesses the strength of spirit and will to survive (and thrive) through challenging circumstances by banding together. Through culture and strong community, hope is found. One such group that exemplifies this spirit are the staff and volunteers at the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) located in Eagle Butte.
Since 2003, AIM has shown its love for its neighbors in South Dakota by working with the staff and volunteers at CRYP to assist them in meeting the needs of their community.
CRYP was founded in January 1988 by our friend, Julie Garreau, in response to the community’s need for more services that support struggling children and their families. Originally housed in a converted bar on the town’s Main Street, CRYP created a safe place for children to come after school, offering activities such as arts and crafts, intramural sports and volunteer mentorship, in addition to serving a healthy meal and snack each day. The Youth Center, known locally as “The Main”, was operated completely by a volunteer staff and quickly became a vital element of the Cheyenne River Community. Despite its small size, and very little money for programming, the Youth Center was filled to capacity each day.
From those meager beginnings, CRYP has come a long, long way. In 1997, CRYP partnered with the national non-profit, Running Strong for American Indian Youth, to build a new youth center that could support the organization’s growth. The new “Main Youth Center” opened in May 1999, and provides a recreation room, library, family room, commercial grade kitchen, office space and residential quarters for long-term volunteers. Of course, CRYP has continued to expand and partnered once again with Running Strong in 2004 to build the Cokata Wiconi Teen Center for youth ages 13-18. Cokata Wiconi is a tremendous achievement for CRYP, at over 25,000 sq ft and with many new and exciting opportunities for teens! The center has a full-sized basketball court, an internet cafe, a computer lab, dance and art studios, as well as private volunteer quarters.
In addition to its youth programming, CRYP maintains the 2-acre, naturally grown, pesticide-free Winyan Toka Win (“Leading Lady” in the Lakota language) garden, provides for the basic needs of the parents, grandparents and other relatives of the kids its serves through its Family Services program (which provides emergency hygiene products, household supplies, school supplies and diapers, and heat and home improvement assistance), and hosts the RedCan Graffiti Jam (the first and only graffiti art festival hosted on an indian reservation).
Since 2003 AIM, through its Saints with a Missions Purpose - Indian Nations (SWAMP-IN) Team, has sent multi-generational teams to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation to work with the staff and volunteers of CRYP. These teams, often consisting of members of entire families and groups of friends, work with the staff and volunteers of CRYP for a week providing programming and meals for the kids participating in CRYP's youth and teen programs and performing maintenance and capital improvement projects at CRYP's facilities. More importantly, these teams build lasting relationships with the kids, teens, staff and volunteers of CRYP. It is these relationships that have led many people to return to CRYP year after year.
Another group which exemplifies this spirit is the Blackbear family on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Despite the difficulty of life on the Reservation, the Blackbear family has remained a strong and supportive family with over 100 family members. The Blackbears have also opened their homes and their lives to Charlotte Wienski, who have become an adopted member of the Blackbear family.
Since 2008, AIM, through its Lakota Light Team, has taken one or more groups of people each year to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. These groups work with members of the Blackbear family on a variety of projects around the community each day and organize games and activities for young and old each evening. More importantly, through these projects, games and activities a common bond and understanding is created among the members of the group and the people of the community, thereby beginning the slow process of removing the barriers that prevent meaningful reconciliation between the Oglala people and non-Native people.
Click the box below if you, your church, your school, or your organization are interested in learning how you can become a part of AIM's SWAMP-IN Team or Lakota Light Team and assist them in their work in South Dakota.