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The Cheyenne River Youth Project is dedicated to providing Lakota youth with access to the resources and opportunities they need to build a future in which they thrive. A vital component of that mission is providing access to sacred sites, and this fall, the nonprofit organization did just that with a two-night field trip to Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota.
 
Youth Center Manager Danielle Reynolds, Programs Assistant Wendell Nezzie Jr. and Programs Assistant Trainee Chris Rencountre chaperoned 19 Native Food Sovereignty interns on the trip, which coincided with Public Lands Day on Saturday, Sept. 23. The teen interns ranged in age 14 to 17 years old.
 
“We knew we had to make it a two-night visit so we could give them a full day on Saturday,” Widow explained. “The special event allowed them to take part in efforts to restore the native tallgrass prairie.” 
 
“The kids from the CRYP provided a tremendous help to our Natural Resources Department by assisting us with the removal of invasive plant species and the gathering of native plants seeds,” explained Gabriel Yellowhawk, biological science technician for Pipestone National Monument. “It was great work in our ongoing efforts to restore the native tallgrass prairie at our site.”
 
Pipestone is a sacred place for the Lakota people. This is where their ancestors gathered the Inyan Sa from the earth to make their chanunpa (pipes), and it is still used for that purpose today.
 
“This area is filled with the stories and traditions of our people, and it is home to many of our traditional plants and medicines as well,” said Yellowhawk, who also is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “I remember growing up, always hearing the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman and how she gave the pipe and the ceremonies to our people. It was our Nation who first received these gifts, and this is why the chanunpa and the pipe bundle are displayed on our Nation's flag today. The pipe is the foundation of our Nation’s history and culture.
 
I consider it a great honor and privilege to be able to work in this sacred land as a steward for our lands, waters, medicines, and living beings that make their home in this place,” he continued. “I am even more grateful that I have the opportunity to share the stories and knowledge that I have of this place with our youth when CRYP comes to visit.”
 
During their visit, the teens also were able to tour the national monument, observing the site’s red quartzite cliffs, waterfall, and even a great blue heron along the river. They met a few of the local pipe carvers, who shared some of their generational knowledge. And, they learned about the Pipestone Indian Training School.
 
“I believe it’s important that we do not forget that side of our history,” Yellowhawk said. “In order to grow as a Nation, it is important that we understand the resonating effects of our past. 
 
“It is always a pleasure to have the Cheyenne River Youth Project come to Pipestone to visit,” he observed. “As an Itazipco Lakota, it warms my heart to see our people's youth learn about our history and culture, continuing the unbroken hoop that connects us with our ancestors.”

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