Cheyenne River Youth Traveled to Washington, D.C. as “Growing into Wowahinyepi” Champions

Champs with CNAY and CRYP staff in Washington, D.C.

Published April 24, 2018

During the three-day trip, the five teens learned to articulate and pitch their individual platforms and learn more about becoming Lakota Nation leaders.

EAGLE BUTTE, SOUTH DAKOTA — Earlier this month, the five Lakota teens who are participating in the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s “Growing Into Wowachinyepi” program had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. During the three-day trip on Apr. 8-11, the young people learned to articulate and pitch their individual platforms and learn more about becoming leaders and culture-bearers for the Lakota nation.

The Growing Into Wowachinyepi initiative was designed to honor the Cheyenne River community’s youth leaders in a culturally relevant and respectful way, while also giving participants opportunities to continue their leadership journey. The youth project created the program in conjunction with the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, modeling it on CNAY’s existing “Champions for Change” program.

The word wowachinyepi means “ one who the people can depend on.” The CRYP program promotes that distinctly Lakota view of leadership while honoring and recognizing young people who exemplify their community’s values. Cheyenne River’s 2018 Growing Into Wowachinyepi Champions are Claudia Iron Hawk, 18; Daniel Semon, 18; Jaymalee Turning Heart, 17; Randi Little Star, 16; and Oliver Miner, 16.

All five have been active in CRYP’s ground-breaking internship program, following tracks in wellness, the arts, sustainable agriculture and social enterprise. For their platforms, Semon and Turning Heart chose suicide prevention; Miner and Little Star chose drug and alcohol awareness; and Iron Hawk selected revitalization of the Lakota language.

“Growing Into Wowachinyepi has allowed them to continue their leadership journey through professional skills-building workshops, leadership training, holistic wellness trainings,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s youth programs director. “This exciting, all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. is a critical component in that journey.”

On Apr. 9, their first full day in the nation’s capital, the Cheyenne River teens went through specific trainings that would prepare them for the rest of their stay. They learned to handle introductions, pitch their own unique platforms, and share their perspectives on why they care about this particular work.

Champs at the CRYP campus on Cheyenne River

“They practiced several times, and CNAY Executive Director Erik Stedman gave them valuable tips for public speaking,” Widow said. “Their next training was Advocacy 191 with Denise Desiderio. All the kids agreed that she gave them tons of good information about current budgets, and how their initiatives tie into those budgets. They said they now have some good funding ideas to bring home to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe!”

The final training that day was with a CNAY senior communications professional who taught them how to utilize social media to reach out to their peers and support their platforms. Widow noted that it was eye-opening for the teens to understand how their own social media content might be perceived.

On Apr. 10, the Cheyenne River youth rode the metro all over the city as they attended their scheduled meetings. First, they visited the office of Rep. Kristy Noem (R-SD).

“Rep. Noem was flying into D.C. at that time, so she was unable to meet with us,” Widow said. “But her staff gave us great information about the $7 billion budget for opioid addiction that just passed; our tribes would get just $3 or 4 million of that. The kids blew their speech out of the water with that information.”

The group also met with staff members for Sen. John Thune (R-SD). While the senator was unavailable due to the Facebook hearing that day, the teens were able to meet with staff to practice telling their story and discuss funding for CRST.

“We were able to meet with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD),” Widow reported. “We had an awesome conversation, and he encouraged all the kids to continue on to college and help their community. He is sponsoring Oliver in the Senate Page Program.”

According to Widow, the meetings really motivated the teens, who expressed their gratitude to CNAY and CRYP for helping them. They’re energized about their platforms and seek to make a difference on Cheyenne River.

“I know if we all stop being scared, and do our best for our loved ones, we can save lives,” Turning Heart said.




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