Cheyenne River children learn their history through The Keya Foundation

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Thanks to the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, for the past two years we have been able to provide grant funding to our longtime partner, The Keya Foundation, for its Intergenerational Lakota History Children’s Book Project enabling children to illustrate stories as told to them by the Lakota Elders on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

“The focus of the children’s book project is on the youth learning the cultural history and taking ownership in the illustration and creation of books that will preserve their own history,” explained Keya Foundation assistant director Tammy Granados.

The project first included bringing elders into the classroom to teach the history and provide the stories.

“The students themselves will be building a relationship with the elder’s community in hopes to create a stronger intergenerational relationship,” said Tammy, which will in turn increase and help distribute the knowledge of the elders and the Lakota language through the children’s books.

In addition, “It will leverage the current successes of the arts courses in the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe schools and create a stronger sense of self for the students illustrating and reading the books,” she said.

As of August, five of the planned eight books have been completed – “Three Hunters and a Bear,” “Seven Lakota Values,” “Morning Star,” “Thipi Teachings,” and “Kheya” – which have all been printed and distributed to local schools, as well as schools throughout South Dakota.

At present, the other three – “A Mother’s Love,” “Little Prairie School,” and the Lakota Alphabet – are in the editing process.

And as Tammy expected, the project has had a profound impact on both the children and the elders alike.

“I learned a lot about the Kheya (turtle),” said 8-year-old Mahpiya. “That is my favorite my book.

“I learned Lakota words, and with the words next to it in English, I was able to understand what that word means in Lakota and English. So, it taught me Lakota.

“I learned about why I have a beaded turtle and that when I’m grown up and prove that I am ready, I will be given my turtle back when I am an adult.”

Blaine, a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe elder, stressed the importance of education to the children.

“Education is one of the most important things you get to do in your life and to survive.

“It takes a lot of years to get the education. But once you have it, you always have it. It is important that we pass on what we know.”

And that is true particularly of the culture, said Blaine who even though he is an enrolled member of the tribe, he never learned to speak the language.

“I understand some of it,” he says, “but we were never taught it. There was nobody in my family to teach it.”

Tammy notes that oral storytelling is a vital piece of Oceti Sakowin (the Seven Council Fires) history.

“Traditionally, our ancestors passed down through stories that taught us about morals, history, life-skills and milestones,” she said. “Much of this was lost. The Children’s Book Project helps us take the stories and knowledge of our local elders, as it pertains to our local people here on Cheyenne River, and write those stories down so that they can continue to be passed down in the new world that we walk in.

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