The culture of the Lakota people is to take care of each other. We’re in Eagle Butte. South Dakota home of the Cheyenne River Youth Project, where they’re doing that and so much more.
“It just shows how much those kids mean to our spirits and how much inspiration they give us. And how they feed our souls. And even if it’s a troubled situation, it helps us and it’s kind of, really makes sure we know why we are here,” said Julie Garreau.
The Cheyenne River Youth Project is in the heart of Eagle Butte, South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Executive Director Julie Garreau founded the organization in 1998.
“I grew up with public servants. You know, my father was a police officer. My mother was a, she was the director for a program that serves the elderly. And so, I grew up with that all the time,” said Julie Garreau.
Her heart lies with the people within her special community.
“I really think at some points in my life or career, I thought I can save the world. I can do this. If anything, I could take my world. I like to think big. I like to dream big. I like to make dreams happen,” said Julie Garreau.
Her dream was big but the initial resources were extremely limited. Julie remained determined.
“That bar called, ‘The Little Brown Jug’ apparently was a fairly notorious bar. Our Tribal Chairman didn’t want it on Main Street, so the tribe bought the building and then they offered it to the community for ideas and proposals. And they accepted it, to turn it into a youth center,” said Julie Garreau.
Every corner of The Little Brown Jug was repurposed into something useful for the youth center.
“We just painted it. Made it bright and beautiful. And you know, volunteers came and we did something different. We moved walls, we, we just made do. It was great. It was a lot of fun and I have to tell you, we had nothing back then. Nothing,” said Julie Garreau.
Over the 32 years of the organization, much has been learned.
“The things that we learned though in those early days, like good stewardship of our donations and just being practical. And all of that is part of our organizational DNA today,” said Julie Garreau.
“You give us $5; we make it $100 because we’re just like that. ‘Cuz, you never know what’s gonna happen in the future. And so, I want to make sure because we made a promise that we would always be here. And, I really committed to keeping that promise.”
Julie’s promise has been kept and the difference made has been life changing for many. Life saving for some.
“My path would probably be different from where it is right now. I probably would have not gotten on the wrong, the right one. Went down the wrong one instead. And I still be doing that scene probably thinking, the bad things are cool,” said Xavier Norris.
24-year-old Xavier Norris started coming to the campus when he was 8 years old. He is on a positive life path thanks to the programs here.
“No matter how many setbacks that you have, just keep going. You know, life knocks you down. Get back up, pretty much. So, like all the setbacks I’ve had, like a lot. I just keep going. Just keep trying to be better for the youth in my family and mainly myself,” said Xavier Norris.
UnaLee Howe is originally from the White Horse area on the Cheyenne River Reservation. She teaches art, graphic design, pottery and more at the CYRP. She sees the impact.
“Just give them the opportunity to play with art, to come and play basketball, to express their, their dance and record that and give that back to them. You know, it helps their spirit, helps their heart. It helps, it helps them realize the community is with them, not against them,” said UnaLee Howe.
“We have gymnasium, fitness room, art studio, library, computer lab, dance studio. So much within that space. We also have a gift shop where we sell, sell native artwork,” said Julie Garreau. “We have a two-and-a-half-acre organic garden. It might be three acres now. But we take that food, and we feed the kids. We process it, we can it, we use it in the café. So, we do farm to table. We also share with the elderly center across the street.”
The programs, training and internships have also evolved.
“We have internships in five different areas going on. We have sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, the arts, native wellness, and social enterprise. So, kids learn specifics in those areas, and then they also learn core classes like first aid, CPR, they learn about like how to write a business plan. They do all sorts of things,” said Julie Garreau.
Xavier is taking full advantage of the training as a youth program assistant. His goal is to follow Julie’s footsteps and create his own center and address the issues of the community including fitness and diabetes.
“You want to be like, how she keeps this going and how she gets the community involved. Like, just having positive impacts on the, on the community, that’s what I want to be like when I’m older, I’ll say,” said Xavier Norris.
“You want to be like Julie Garreau,” said Mike Huether.
“Yeah,” said Xavier Norris.
Julie and UnaLee are cheering Xavier on, but his path to success won’t be an easy one.
“They have to learn the guidelines. And if they, if they, if they don’t meet those guidelines, then they are let go. And that is a hard lesson to learn, but it is a good lesson to learn. Because, out of, out outside of the reservation, they’re not going to be as forgiving,” said UnaLee Howe.
Taylor and I were honored to travel to Eagle Butte and feel first hand, the soul and spirit of Julie Garreau, her team, and the Cheyenne River Youth Project.
“It’s a warm environment. It definitely feeds the spirit, and you will, you walk away with more than what you came,” said UnaLee Howe.
“It’s a great group of people. It’s a great organization. I feel very blessed because they have given me more, I think, that I have given them. They’ve given me purpose and friendships, and just a great career in life. And I’m supremely grateful to the Cheyenne River Youth Project for what they’ve give me,” said Julie Garreau.
If you want to learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project, or even better yet, donate to this very worthy cause, we encourage you to visit their website at lakota youth dot org or go to their Facebook page by searching “Cheyenne River Youth Project.” Julie and team, we are proud of your efforts. Keep it going!