Native food sovereignty took center stage this summer for Cheyenne River Youth Program

This summer, the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s teen interns had valuable opportunities to learn more about native food sovereignty through the Native Youth Food Sovereignty Summit in Rapid City and a special visit from seed keeper Rowen White to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

On July 29-31, Cheyenne River Youth Project sent seven Lakota teens to the second annual Native Youth Food Sovereignty Summit at Rapid City’s Storm Mountain Center. The summit, which was made possible with support from Partnership With Native Americans, allowed the youth to learn about healing herbs and foraging, tinpsila and sacred animals, elements for a balanced life, life celebrations, and more. They also had a chance to enjoy recreational activities with young people from other South Dakota reservations.

Then, in August, Cheyenne River Youth Project invited Rowen White to visit the nonprofit youth organization’s Eagle Butte campus. White is a seed keeper and farmer from the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne; she currently serves as the director of Nevada City, California-based Sierra Seeds, an innovative organic seed cooperative that focuses on local seed production and education.

“Rowen is passionate about indigenous seed and food sovereignty, and it was an honor to have her spend time with us and our young people,” said Julie Garreau, Cheyenne River Youth Project’s executive director.

While she was on the Cheyenne River Youth Project campus, White met with 30 current teen interns and taught them valuable lessons about native food sovereignty and seed saving. They also toured the youth project’s 2.5-acre, organic Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden as they discussed what seed saving means and why it’s important.

“Seeds are ancestors, and (seed saving) is a direct tie to the past,” reflected Meghan Tompkins, Cheyenne River Youth Project’s deputy director. “Rowen told a story about how people would keep seeds in their pouches when they were being relocated, and they wouldn’t grow them even if they were starving. They knew, she said, that they would need them wherever they ended up.”

In addition, the Cheyenne River community had an opportunity to meet White and learn more about native food sovereignty and seed saving. Twenty-five community members attended the special public event at Cheyenne River Youth Project’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life).

The Winyan Toka Win Garden lies at the heart of Cheyenne River Youth Project’s Native Food Sovereignty initiatives, providing fresh produce for meals and gifts, an outdoor classroom for The Main’s Garden Club and the Native Food Sovereignty Teen Internship, and food-related classes and workshops for the Cheyenne River community. Through it all, Cheyenne River Youth Project staff work hard to incorporate traditional Lakota values, spiritual principles and life ways.

“We’re dedicated to strengthening the connection our children and families have with their Lakota culture, in everything we do,” Garreau said. “Food sovereignty is essential to building healthy, strong, self-sufficient individuals and communities, so it’s our fervent hope that what we are doing here will have a meaningful impact on the future of the Lakota Nation.”

To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit And, to stay up to date on the latest Cheyenne River Youth Project news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@lakotayouth and @waniyetuwowapi).

The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.

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