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South Dakota-based nonprofit Cheyenne River Youth Project had trouble finding places to camp near sacred sites in Bear Butte State Park. Having a good spot would mean easier access and better health for Lakota kids to important cultural landmarks — so the nonprofit bought one.

The Youth Project, or CRYP, bought 40 acres of land adjacent to Bear Butte, the group announced in mid-April. The group did not disclose the final cost nor original landowners of the parcel. The process took around five months of planning and discussions with staff, supporters, and landowners, Founder and CEO Julie Garreau said. 

The time was well spent to increase the CRYP kids’ access to their heritage, Garreau said.

“We're constantly trying to make the connection to these lands, to help the kids strengthen that connection,” Garreau said. “Getting kids outdoors is healthy. Getting them to their sacred spaces is healthier. We wanted to be a part of that.”

On the way, CRYP became part of the landback movement, a push to return Indigenous lands back to their original stewards. Tens of thousands of acres have been transferred back into Native hands in recent years. 

Sometimes, the transfers are massive, such as a November 2023 deal with the Penobscot Nation in Maine. In that case - the single largest such land back transaction in US history - the Penobscot will regain 31,000 acres. 

Other times, it’s small parcels of land that hold special meaning for Native many people, such as with CRYP’s South Dakota property. CRYP’s new land won’t be developed, Garreau said. Instead, CRYP will use the space for camping, hiking, and ensuring kids have a place to stay when visiting Bear Butte. The space will host cyclical camp programs in each season. 

To begin, CRYP is planning a ceremony for participating kids and staff, then camping through the weekend in late April. The event will cap off what Garreau called an “incredible” outpouring of support and encouragement in the purchase announcement’s wake. 

“I probably underestimated how well it would be received,” Garreau said. “To see the positive response and outpouring of encouragement has just been the greatest feeling we could have ever imagined. I wasn’t sure how we could do this initially. But I always knew it was the right thing to do.”

It is, after all, part of CRYP’s central mission to kids, Garreau said. The nonprofit has been serving Lakota youth since Garreau founded the organization in 1999. In addition to its youth center and education programs, CRYP provides employment training and paid internships to participating kids.

The goal is to prepare kids for a more challenging world than the one Garreau knew growing up, she said. Some of that means preparing kids for jobs, or providing them a place to go after school. Some of it — like with the land acquisition — means giving them places to be Native kids, Garreau said. 

“If we do not invest in our kids, all these initiatives will not matter. We have an extraordinary obligation to them,” Garreau said. “This land was so in alignment with how we want to raise them. It's 40 acres, it's ours, it's Native-led, it's Native-owned, it doesn't belong to anybody else. I know that our kids are going to get that, and I can't tell you how much that means to me.”

About The Author
Chez Oxendine
Staff Writer
Chez Oxendine (Lumbee-Cheraw) is a staff writer for Tribal Business News. Based in Oklahoma, he focuses on broadband, Indigenous entrepreneurs, and federal policy. His journalism has been featured in Native News Online, Fort Gibson Times, Muskogee Phoenix, Baconian Magazine, and Oklahoma Magazine, among others.
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