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Cheyenne River Youth Project purchases 40 acres near Bear Butte

Forty acres near Bear Butte have been purchased by an indigenous-led organization in the hopes of teaching the next generation about traditional values and land stewardship.

The group’s leaders say it’s also a chance to reclaim a piece of what was stolen after colonization.

The Cheyenne River Youth Project has purchased the Black Hills land adjacent to the culturally significant site.

Group CEO Julie Garreau said when reservations are hours from these important places, it becomes a matter of access.

“It’s also really a practical thing to do, because the Black Hills and those sacred sites are extremely important to the connection to Lakota people," Garreau said. "Being able to access them is critical in terms of raising healthy, young Lakota children. It is, for us, a place we can call home in our traditional homelands.”

More than that though, Garreau said reclaiming this space after over a century of broken treaty obligations stirs deep emotion.

“The Supreme Court already said that land is ours, they wanted to pay for it, and we won’t accept it," Garreau said. "Is it unfair that we had to buy it? Yeah, it is, but we did what we had to do because the kids that we work with are so important. It was overwhelming and highly emotional within our own team, and when the announcement came out, I think everybody here was as emotional as I was.”

In turn, Garreau said they can deepen the well of cultural programming they offer.

“We want to teach kids about what the land can offer them in terms of foods and medicinal plants," Garreau said. "I think a lot of people refer to the plains as food deserts, and I don’t really believe that’s what that is. I think we have a lot of our traditional foods, we just can’t access them because we don’t have access to the land like we used to.”

The land dedication ceremony will be held in private at the end of the month.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture