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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 26, 2003 - Issue 92


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Garden Helps Kids Come of Age

by Terry Woster Argus Leader
credits: Photo 1: Cheyenne River youth and volunteers tending to the garden. photo 2: Julie Garreau the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s founder and project director

Cheyenne River youth and volunteers tending to the garden.EAGLE BUTTE - A sprawling garden of pumpkins, corn and green beans near the Billy Mills Youth Center in Eagle Butte is a tangible symbol of a far grander dream being planted on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

Weeding, watering and nurturing the two-acre garden gives young reservation children a sense of their connection to the land, said Julie Garreau, director of the youth center. And a planned teen center addition to the Billy Mills facility will provide a connection between the center's established programs for pre-teens and the changing demands of soon-to-be adults, she said.

For 15 years, Garreau has been director of the Eagle Butte youth center - formerly called "The Main" because of the building that housed it on the community's main street. For all of that time, Garreau has pushed to expand the programs, to reach more children at more stages of development and to give them positive outlets for their energies and their dreams.

Julie Garreau the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s founder and project director"One way or another, the Main has always been about planting seeds," Garreau said Monday in an interview in her small office in the youth center on the southeast edge of Eagle Butte. "In the garden, there is an actual planting of seeds. But in the programs, and in the teen center we're about to begin building, there's a more symbolic planting of seeds, hoping for the same kind of growth.

"Yes, the garden produces vegetables and fruit that nourish us, but the youth programs, and someday soon the teen center, also can be nourishing in their own ways."

Garreau knows a thing or two about planting seeds and watching them grow.

She headed a group that took an old building in downtown Eagle Butte and converted it to a youth center for kids up to age 12. The place worked well enough, but Garreau dreamed of a bigger building, a center that could hold a kitchen, room for volunteers, a modest library, play yard and activities room. A Virginia-based charitable group and a Lakota track superstar helped bring that about.

Running Strong for American Indian Youth helped provide grant money and support for the youth center. Billy Mills, an Oglala who shocked the international track audience with a hard-charging finish to win the 10,000-meter run in the 1964 Olympics, became the group's national spokesman and lent his name to the youth center. A community food pantry followed and, three years ago, so did a revitalized food plot tended and managed by children.

The garden is a simple sign of what Running Strong is all about, said Molly Farrell, who handled public awareness activities for the organization.

"Running Strong tries to do the basic things, starting slowly and with a small step, as we did with the Cheyenne River Youth Project, and letting it build," Farrell said. "We try to take into account what the people need, not what we think they need or should have. A youth garden is a basic need for nutrition and activity."

It's an exciting place to be on a summer afternoon, Shalynn Carter said. The 9-year-old is in her first summer as a gardener.

"I just like working in the earth," she said. "It's fun to watch the seeds turn into something real."

Carter, the most recent Gardener of the Week, said watering the long, low beds of vegetables and fruit is preferable to pulling the weeds that spring up between the rows. It gives her a good feeling to see the vegetables grown in the youth garden end up in meals at the center or as donations to the elders of the community.

"Yeah, that's one of the good things," she said.

Harmony with land
A smaller version of the current garden had existed for some time, but it was neglected and run- down, Garreau said. Two years ago, the youth project decided to make it a place where children could watch things grow and, in the process, learn valuable lessons about the relationship between people and the land.

A $4,000 grant from Running Strong helped get the two-acre tract started, but Garreau said it also took community volunteers, donated equipment and help from the local college to make it real. The children take turns on garden duty, and each week one or more of the youngsters is designated - as Shalynn Carter was this week- as Gardener of the Week, an honor that includes a T-shirt and a photo in the weekly newspaper. Carter said she's excited about having her photo in the newspaper.

Although Garreau is an optimist, she admits the success of the garden caught her off guard.

"I was a little amazed when things actually grew," Garreau said. "First thing you knew, we had more vegetables than we knew what to do with. We had this incredible harvest of eggplant. We canned a lot of stuff, made salsa, even jalapeno jelly. Every day, they'd be going past with a wheelbarrow filled with something. Green beans, peas."

Nutritional benefits
For a race of people with whom diabetes is almost epidemic, the value of proper diet can't be overstated, Garreau said.

"We actually have kids eating broccoli," she said. "We had to start by covering it with cheese, but we gradually cut that back."

The gardening work is the first time many of the children have been directly involved in seeing something grow, she said. It teaches them about the care required to nurture a plant, the need to step lightly around the planted zucchini and peppers and corn and strawberries. More than that, it gives them a respect for the land and the environment, especially since the garden is completely organic, she said.

"It's an amazing thing when a kid takes a seed and puts it in the ground and then sees what it becomes," she said. "That process helps the kids see the balance in the world, and so much of that has been lost. It's incredibly important, it's part of our Lakota tradition."

Some of the harvest goes into the meals at the youth center, where children have snacks and an evening meal each day. Some goes to the food pantry. A good portion of the produce is shared with elders from the community, something that Garreau said has a much greater effect than simply giving an old person a piece of squash or tomato.

"That's an important connection, the young kids and the elders, where sometimes that bond is broken these days."

Stretching the program
The decision to expand to a teen center and accompanying programs is an attempt to stretch that bond to include the reservation people between the youth and the elderly, Farrell said.

"It really doesn't seem fair to tell a child who has been involved in the youth program that just because he's turned 12, he can no longer be part of the program," she said. "One of the biggest concerns about teens on the reservation is the lack of things to do."

The teen center is a way to keep the connection with the reservation, she said.

"It really does address an immediate need," Farrell said. "We're committed to being involved in these kinds of basic projects that can make such a difference."

A warehouse on the east side of the youth center is structurally sound and can be the core of the new teen center, Garreau said. An architect is in the design stage of what is expected to be a $1.5 million project. Running Strong has offered a $250,000 challenge grant, the seed, if you will, from which the rest of the financing will grow as other corporations and national associations meet the challenge. Garreau hopes ground can be broken next spring and the teen center in operation perhaps nine months later.

For recommendations from furnishings to programs, she turned to the experts - local teenagers.

"I'd say, what do you want in this place?" she said.

"It has to be a cool place, someplace they want to be. They'd say, oh, we need big, overstuffed couches, and I'd nod and say, well, we can work with that. I'm really excited about what this next step will bring."

The place will include a basketball court, library, art lab, dance area, video arcade and counselors' offices, she said. Eagle Butte has more than 600 kids in the junior high and high school, all potential users of the teen center. And the teens from other reservations communities will be made to feel welcome to be part of the program.

Garreau gets a far-away expression when she talks about perhaps one day being able to provide transportation to the teen center for young people from other communities. That, perhaps, is a seed not quite ready to plant.

"We need to get this built first," Garreau said. "It will happen, I promise you."

Some of the Running Strong for American Indian Youth projects in South Dakota:

  • Cheyenne River Youth Garden. A $4,000 grant to help start a two-acre garden.
  • Water wells on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Each year, Running Strong drills 13 wells for families living without clean water. In 2002, the wells averaged 148 feet deep and cost an average of $6,027.
  • Cheyenne River Youth Project. More than $53,000 in grants have helped the project provide meals, activities and supervision for an average of 300 kids per month.
  • SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club. $100,000 for a Pine Ridge youth center.
  • Pine Ridge Dialysis Clinic. In 2002, Running Strong joined the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Indian Health Service and the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation to build a new dialysis clinic on the reservation.

Source: Running Strong 2002 annual report

Eagle Butte, SD Map

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