This month, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® has invited children of all ages to participate in cooking classes at the nonprofit organization’s Eagle Butte campus. The younger children from The Main youth center were able to participate last Friday, March 10, while the teens have their night scheduled for this Wednesday, March 15.

Last Friday, the 4- to 12-year-olds who participate in activities at The Main were able to create their own homemade pizzas. The older children helped make the pizza dough while the younger ones participated in a “wellness hour,” then all the children finished the pizzas with their favorite ingredients and enjoyed a daily activity while the pies were in the oven. The older children served the pizza and called tables for everyone to be seated.

This Wednesday, youth programs assistants Wendell Nezzie and Danny Grassrope will host the teen cooking class at the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center. The event will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m., and it’s open free to any area teens who wish to attend.

“We’re hoping to have 10 participants, and we’ll be making chicken and vegetable stir fry with rice and smoothies,” Nezzie said.

While the cooking classes are always a lot of fun for Cheyenne River children and teens, there’s a deeper purpose to the program, according to Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director.

“We never have programs just for their own sake,” she explained. “At CRYP, we believe that we can only help our Lakota youth achieve true lifelong wellness if we successfully address physical, emotional and spiritual well-being; good nutrition is a big piece of that puzzle.”

Through the cooking classes, CRYP staff teach participants about the nutrients in different foods, planning a healthy menu, and how to prepare various dishes. The reward, of course, is enjoying a delicious, nutritious, family-style meal with mentors and friends.

“It’s important that we work with our teens, and it’s perhaps even more important that we engage with our youngest children, so they grow up understanding the importance of good nutrition and preparing your own food at home,” Garreau said. “Our native communities are ravaged by diabetes, so it’s critical that we steer our youth away from fast food and highly processed items—toward whole, unprocessed foods, naturally grown produce and, when we can, traditional meals.

“By strengthening young people’s connection to real food, and giving them a deeper understanding of how that food fuels their wellness in every way,” she continued, “we’re also strengthening their connection to our traditional Lakota life ways and to Mother Earth.”

Later in the year, CRYP will be able to incorporate its own fresh, naturally grown food items into its cooking classes. Thanks to its 2-acre, pesticide-free Winyan Toka Win garden, the nonprofit youth organization is able to harvest thousands of pounds of crops each year. These crops are incorporated into daily youth meals and snacks, regular and specialty menu items in the seasonal farm-to-table Keya (Turtle) Cafe, and dried and canned food items for sale through the Keya Gift Shop.

The youth project also hold its weekly Leading Lady Farmers Market throughout the summer and fall seasons, and it hosts community members at its annual Harvest Festival dinner.

To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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.