The Winyan Toka Win garden is a critical element in CRYP’s wellness programming. Through the garden, our kids learn about nutrition and making healthy choices, which goes a long way toward combating youth diabetes on Cheyenne River. The garden also teaches us how sustainability really works. We try to incorporate those principles into everything we do here, in every season. As Lakota people, the land is so important to us. It’s part of who we are, so we’re dedicated to making sure that our children establish their own connections to Mother Earth. Once they do that, those connections will last a lifetime — they’ll continue to work with the land to protect future generations from diabetes and the other health issues that are ravaging native populations. They’ll also continue to develop a safe, secure, sovereign food supply, as well as additional methods for local people to earn money and support their families. It’s a beautiful concept: Think globally, act locally.
Not only is fresh, nutritious garden produce served in daily snacks and meals at The Main youth center and the Cokata Wiconi teen center, CRYP actively engages Cheyenne River’s children with a variety of garden-centric programs and activities. For example, every Tuesday and Thursday during the growing season, 4- to 12-year-old youth participants from The Main join the Garden Club leader and other volunteers in the garden to assist with planting, watering, weeding and harvesting. After each 45-minute garden session, they add entries to their garden journals. Teens also get involved in the garden, helping to tend the plants, harvest the produce and even prepare and process foods in Cokata Wiconi’s commercial-grade kitchen. In addition, when CRYP hosts special events that involve a meal, teen volunteers frequently help prepare and serve foods that contain fresh Winyan Toka Win produce.
Over the years, we’ve discovered that workshops and special activities related to the garden and gift shop fit beautifully into CRYP’s youth programming efforts, fostering business skills, life skills, diabetes prevention and holistic wellness. Historically, as Lakota people, we have been deeply connected to the earth. In the last century, that connection was broken, so we are doing everything we can to get our kids, from the 4- and 5-year-olds up to the teenagers, out into the garden and into the kitchen. We’re hoping to teach them lessons that will serve them well all their lives, lessons that they will pass on to future generations. We’re hoping to take meaningful strides toward healing in our communities.