Top 10 Things I will Tell Others About the Reservation

By: Emerson Loria

10.How crowded the kids houses are- the Cheyenne River reservation certainly has no shortage of people, but it does have a shortage of houses. One of the citizens told us how they don’t have nearly enough of houses built, and because of this many families are forced to cram into one house, making things difficult. Many of the kids that came to us arrived with multiple of their siblings and cousins as well because they all lived in one house.

9. The lack of people to look up to- originally we weren’t sure how hard it would be to get the kids to trust us and open up to us, and actually tell us about their lives. The little kids almost immediately enjoyed playing with us and gladly answered any question we had, whether it was what’s your favorite color or what’s your family situation like.  The teens were a bit harder to crack, but were still much easier than I expected, after an hour or so of basketball many of the teens were willing to talk to you.  After a few days I realized how attached the kids had become to us and our love for them; the little ones cried when they heard we were leaving soon, and the teens really tried to get us on their basketball team to take advantage of our time there.  After hearing about the kid’s life situation I realized that they don’t really have many people to look up to, because some of the moms are abusive, and many of the dads don’t seem to be around for these kids.  So when we come around playing with them and talking to them they quickly look up to you.  I can only hope that with the short time we were there, that we inspired them in some way shape or form.

8. The low high school graduation rate- it was very shocking to hear how many teens are planning to dropout, and how common it has been for so long. Many of the students just struggle too much to feel the need to graduate, while others have lots of problems at home that high school has no importance to them. It’s sad and should be a priority to change, but change for the students starts at home, not the school itself.

7. The drug issue- I really didn’t expect drugs to be really common on a reservation but I was sadly mistaken. Drugs are used by approximately 61% of all tenth graders on a Native American reservation, compared to about 30% everywhere else in America.  And as I started to talk to the teens, the amount of kids who are already struggling with drugs is truly depressing.  In fact, the basketball games I attended were specifically set up to keep the teens busy with something other than drugs, in hopes to bring that down.

6. The poverty- poverty on the reservation is extremely common and it isn’t helped by the over 80% unemployment rate on the reservation. This is also why many families are forced into one house, not only are there not enough houses but the people also don’t have enough money.  Jobs are scarce and still don’t pay very well, so the financial struggle within the reservation is almost with everyone.

5. The food desert- when we arrived on the reservation we saw only a couple places to actually eat at and were surprised by how much open space there was. I later did some research on the lack of places to eat in the Cheyenne River reservation and found that the reservation had been declared a food desert. And rightfully so, food is hard to come by, so much so that one of our jobs on the reservation was to weed the garden they had so they could grow food for next year.

4. How similar the kids appeared to us- just today my family facetimed me to ask about my time on the reservation, and one of the first questions that my sister asked me was did the kids were different clothes. I myself am at fault because I honestly wasn’t sure if they wore the same clothes as us. But by looks they don’t have any noticeable differences, they were the same clothes, the talk like us, and many love basketball, I think many can relate to that.  Even though many don’t know what the people are like on a reservation or what goes on, the people here are truly no different from you and me.

3. The pipeline problem- before my time on the reservation I had never heard of any pipeline Indian reservation thing in my life. But one of the first things we learned once we arrived was the issue on the government trying to force oil pipes into the reservation without their permission. This has been an ongoing fight for quite awhile now and I would have probably never known about it if it wasn’t for this amazing program.  So the pipeline issue will definitely be something I’ll make sure to inform my friends and family as I talk to everyone.

2. How isolated they are- people not knowing about what they wear, how impoverished they are, and the pipeline issue, are all perfect examples of how isolated they are from the rest of the country. Which is really strange, because they haven’t done anything wrong or even want this isolation, but for some reason we all believe that the reservation is their land and they don’t want to be bothered. Which isn’t true at all, they’re just stuck in this awful situation and removed from the rest of our American society.

1. The people- The very first thing and very most important thing I’ll be sure to tell everyone is how wonderful and kind everyone was while we were there. No matter who I ran into people were kind and accepting of us visiting their hometown, I really didn’t encounter anyone who gave me an issue. So if you’re going to take anything away from my experience on the Cheyenne River reservation it’s that these people are extremely kind.


Transitions in Two Different Communities

By: Sammy Johnson

In a time lapse of approximately 6 weeks, I have traveled through a variety of communities. Starting in the Wind River Valley to backpack for the first 4 weeks was physically and emotionally difficult, however moving into civilization and communities facing poverty and other societal issues was a different type of challenge. Backpacking for hours every other day only pushed me to the limits of risk management skills. The community of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota pushed me to learn to empathize and gain a perspective that appreciated the culture found on a reservation. I learned the most about empathy when working with the children of the Cheyenne River Youth Project. To understand some of the anger rooted in the children, I had to ask questions to find the cause of it and not show pity towards them. They residents of the community do not need our pity, but only empathy. They need someone to understand and relate to them in some way. I am still challenged in this task. Backpacking taught me how to help myself in situations of feeling lonely, now service learning is teaching me how to appropriately help others without offending them or showing disrespect with unwanted offers of how to fix things. We continue to drive on towards St. Louis, Missouri and continue our service learning. I have optimism that I will learn more about myself and my abilities.


My New Friend

By: Mary DiMartino

If you know me, you know I LOVE kids – absolutely love them. This past week in South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Reservation, I had the opportunity to work with kids every day. You can imagine how excited I was to hear that. The first day we worked with them I met a 7-year-old boy named Tyler. We played tag and hide & seek in the gym and I had such a good time hanging out with him. I spent the rest of the evening with him and found myself getting attached to this one little boy after just a few hours. Each day after that, I was counting down the hours until 4 o’clock, when I could see Tyler. And if he didn’t show up right at 4, I would be disappointed and wishing he was there.

Over this past year I worked at an after-school day care for elementary schoolers and spent every week day with them. 15 hours a week, 52 weeks in a year – 780 hours I spent with those kids. I had 12 precious hours with Tyler, and I can honestly say I developed an equally strong and meaningful relationship with him. Tyler always managed to put a smile on my face. Here are a few times this little boy, without even thinking about it, made my day:

  1. When he first remembered my name: On the first day he would keep forgetting my name so I would ask him what my name was every 10 minutes so he would remember. The next day when he came into the gym he ran up to me yelling “Mary!!!” I was so touched that he remembered me AND my name.
  1. When he drew me & him on his buddy bag: For our craft on the first day, we made these things called buddy bags. Everyone got a brown paper bag and decorated it however they wanted. The purpose of these bags were to give each other notes, pictures, bracelets, etc. throughout the week so when we left, we were able to leave a piece of us behind with them while bringing a piece of them with us. After Tyler was done with his bag, he came up to me and showed me it. On it he drew a picture of a girl and a boy, and he said, “That’s you and me.”
  1. When he made me a bracelet: After Tyler decorated his buddy bag, he made me a bracelet with beads!! I plan on wearing it for as long as I have it (I’m trying my hardest not to misplace it).
  1. When he came to The Main: One day he didn’t show up in the gym so I assumed he wasn’t coming. I was so sad that I wouldn’t be able to hang out with him. When we got to the Main I went to my room to grab my water bottle, and when I came back out to the common room he was standing there with a baseball bat, ball, and glove smiling. In that moment I was so honestly so happy to see him.
  1. When we played baseball together: I’m not into sports whatsoever but playing catch with Tyler outside was so fun. I loved seeing him doing something he enjoyed so much.
  1. When we played Jenga: Back home, my friends and I always play Jenga. After cleaning up after dinner one night I found Tyler sitting on the ground playing it. I went over and played it with him for the rest of the night. It was a nice reminder of home and I enjoyed doing something I love with him.
  1. When we built a tower with building blocks: Another night we took out the building blocks and built a giant tower. Each time it fell down we would just build it up again. Seeing him get excited after placing another block on top each time put a smile on my face.
  1. When he kept telling me to sit next to him at dinner: On our last night on the reservation Tyler kept repeatedly asking me to sit next to him during dinner. It made me happy that he enjoyed my company and wanted to spend time with me.

An Open Letter to the Cheyenne River Youth Project

I want to start off by saying my time with you was inadequate, but only because it was nowhere near enough time to know all of your stories, and they all deserve to be shared. The stories I did learn had two things in common. One is unthinkable adversity. Whether poverty, abuse, or neglect, each of you have faced more than any child should have to. Thankfully, the other thing you all have in common is strength. Each of you is still here today and that in itself is a feat. In a place where suicide is so common, by continuing to fearlessly face the future, you are doing something amazing. I’m not sure if I will ever see any of you again, but I will never forget you. I have no idea where each of you will go on from here. Some of you have hopes for college, and I know you have it in you. Even having the goal is more than many people around you have. For those in which this is not even close to an option, I wish you the best in life, in getting a job, in raising a family, in supporting them, and breaking the cycle. For the children who are facing the unimaginable, sometimes you slip up and your anger gets the best of you and there are days when you wish you had the privilege of other people, but you are so much more than what has been done to you and you are stronger than anyone who has had it easier than you: Most importantly, so many of you always find away to smile and be happy despite everything happening. You will grow up hearing legends of the strength of your ancestors and know that the strength to prosper lies within you as well. I wish you all the best in life.

Ms. Laura 


A Letter to the People of the Cheyenne River Reservation

Dear People of the Cheyenne River Reservation,

I’m sorry that I did not get to spend more time with you, a week could never be enough. I’ve heard so many stories, so many tales of strength, and seen so much love in a community in the short amount of time I had with you. To say that it was an honor to be a part of your life for several days would be an understatement, you have taught me so much about what it means to enjoy life and what you have. For most of you, life has not been kind. Many of you face struggles unimaginable to many people, but I want you to know that your stories have impacted thirteen lives, and we will never forget them. The point of our stay with you was to do a service for you, instead I feel you have done me a service. You have shown me that people can persevere through some of the worst tragedies, and that you always have hope for the younger generation. To those of you that I talked to, thank you. You made me feel at home in a place very far from my own home. To all the little girls I met and played with, as we say in our small traveling family, you are the Strongest Girl in the World. To the boys I met that have some of the hardest lives, you can do whatever you set your mind to, whether it be going to college, or changing your circumstances. I believe in all of you, and I will never forget any of you.

Juliana Siler

Top 10 & Bottom 10

By: Noah Zaiser

This past week on the Cheyenne River Reservation has certainly been interesting. Seeing the youth of the community was very telling of Eagle Butte’s condition, and for this reason I’d like to create a top ten list alongside a bottom ten list. The fact of the matter is, many people in this small South Dakota area are struggling, but they do not demand assistance or aid, they are fiercely independent, and this alone sets them apart. With rich Native American culture pervading the space, a sense of strong connections to the past seep into the present, but with a much more broken condition. Multiple homes are negatively affected by alcoholism and a lack of nuclear family dynamic, with many children turning to one common focal point: sports; namely basketball. Whether this is used as a form of escape or as a general platform for enjoyment is up for debate, but one aspect of it all is for sure: the people of this community have been forgotten, but do not ask to be remembered, they are simply themselves. This is where I’ll start.

Top 10

  1. Eagle Butte has a Dairy Queen
  2. The Cheyenne River Youth Project Building is well-maintained
  3. The Coffee shop is inexpensive and contains delicious, high quality food
  4. The kids we worked with were very responsive and attached to us
  5. The people of the community genuinely care about one another
  6. There is a graffiti park, and it is beautiful
  7. The staff we worked with is extremely dedicated to the people of the community
  8. A park located about half a mile from where we stayed contained some very happy people playing ultimate frisbee
  9. The stars outside are beautiful see at night
  10. We managed to take care of a pet cat for half the week

Bottom 10

  1. Trash is everywhere; litter is very common to see
  2. Many stray dogs and cats are roaming about, and were occasionally aggressive
  3. At night, it is very possible to see at least 3 intoxicated people stumbling around
  4. Many children have violent or discipline-lacking tendencies
  5. There are very little recreational areas such as movie theaters, restaurants, etc.
  6. The older teens are often unresponsive or uninterested in engaging with others
  7. Many teens plan to drop out of high school and don’t know what they want to do with their future
  8. Stories of broken home lives were common to hear from the children we worked with
  9. Health and wellness did not seem to be a crucial value of the community with high obesity rates
  10. Basketball was the only sport that was played due to the expensive nature and low accessibility of other equipment and resources

From what one may be able to tell, there are a multitude of positive and negative aspects about the space I observed. The fact that this area struggles so heavily, yet continues to live on is very telling of the people that occupy it, and I am certain that Eagle Butte is on the rise, rather than declining. While health and family life struggle often, there is hope through the connections that the children make through each other through sports, conversation, or simple arts and crafts. I firmly believe that the kids we worked with are the future of the reservation, and there is much going on in the way of structuring a good environment for them. From here, life looks like it will only improve.


Top 5 Misconceptions I had about Native American Reservations

By: Angelo Boone

● I would see people walking around in hide skin and feathers. Indians on the reservation wear normal clothes just like everyone else. They listen to the same
music, play some of the same sports, and have a lot of the same interests. I did not see one person wearing something considered “Indian.”
● Indians were a group of people in the past. Native Americans are still here today. The only time I remember learning about indians in school was in history class. They were talked about as if they did not exist today, but that could not be further from the truth.
● All Native Americans wish to stay on their reservations. Some Natives do in fact wish to stay where they culture lies, however, many would like to pursue higher education and different lifestyles, but are unable to leave due to lack of financial
support. Many of the kids I talked to on the reservation have ambitious goals of going off to college far away from where they have grown up. They know that the odds of that happening are slim do to the high rate of high school dropouts, but despite those statistics many still dream big.
● There are only a handful of reservations that exist today. There are 326 Indian reservations in the United States. I had so little knowledge of the reservations that I thought that there could not be many of them. I was wrong! There are a ton of reservations and even more tribes. Each reservation is a little different and each has their own set of issues they are trying to deal with.
● All Indian reservations are wealthy off of casinos. This was the one I was probably most wrong on. Although it is true some reservations have casinos, many do not. Most reservations live way below the poverty line and struggle to make ends meet.

Basketball, Empathy, & Enlightenment

By: Brendan Gallagher


Left: Cheyenne River Youth Project Basketball Court

Spending a week at the Cheyenne Indian Reservation wasn’t nearly enough time to fully comprehend and grasp the full culture. Life on the reservation was certainly different from life back home, but not nearly as different as I had wrongfully anticipated. The reservation’s headquarters are located at city of Eagle Butte, South Dakota consisting of a total of over 1.4 million acres. Poverty is beyond prevalent on the reservation, in large part due to some heavy federal regulations and imbalanced economic assistance. Despite numerous massacres, land seizures, and settler invasions over centuries, the Natives continue to prevail to this day.

Sympathy is defined as a feeling of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. As the leader of the Youth Program stated on the first day of our service week, the tribe does not want sympathy. The Native Americans have been against the odds for years and a group of teen volunteers aren’t going to make any significant differences in the matter of a week. They accepted the help we offered and we were able to assist in various areas across the youth center, particularly in the warehouse and garden. It was satisfying to contribute in any way necessary and better understand the drastic contrasting lifestyle of such a determined community. This service week in South Dakota gave me the opportunity to reflect on how easy my life has been thus far and how grateful I truly ought to be. However, there were many simple relatable aspects that I could connect with the teenagers about, especially basketball.

I have played basketball since when my dad introduced me to the sport at age six. So when Tammy-Joy informed the Gap group that basketball was the most beloved sport, I was thrilled. I spent my first night hanging out at the basketball gym which was adjacent to the Cheyenne River Youth Project building that we slept in. A couple of the girls in the group were designated to hang out with the teens during this time period also, and they were understandably uncomfortable for a brief period of time. They were not experienced in the sport of basketball and it was fairly difficult to initiate conversation with a group with such discrepant backgrounds and life circumstances. However, these few Gap girls were able to open up to some of the female Natives and discover individuals who weren’t too different after all. The males, who were the overwhelming majority of the basketball players, were also extremely welcoming and inviting to us. We were able to join their intense, fast-paced pickup games as unknown strangers at the time. They were certainly accustomed to regular service groups, but it amused me at how accepting the teens were of us coming to play on their home court. I played pretty well after having some time off from ball, but these younger teens quickly proved their skills after managing an early win against us pretty handily. Their athleticism, competitiveness, and passion for the sport was admirable to say the least. Basketball is such an entertaining sport and i am so thankful there was such an easy bridge of common ground between myself and the Native Americans.

Although I was able to delve into many serious life difficulties like poverty, suicide, and alcoholism on the reservation, the beauty of simplicity within the sport of basketball allowed the connection of an outside group and a family at home. The sport provided an escape from many of the daily hardships for teenagers and afforded an outcast group of college students access to dialogue and formation of new bonds. I enjoyed my time on the Cheyenne River Reservation but it is crazy how quickly a week can fly by. As a group we learned a significant amount from a discriminated society, while I personally was granted the opportunity to play one of favorite sports with a squad of talented athletes.

Items I Have Lost So Far

By: Alexa Baer

As you can tell by this point in the blog I like lists. Like I really really like lists. I also have a bad habit of losing anything and everything. So here is a list of everything I lost this week and everything I’ve found.


– My drawstring bag with my wallet inside. I lost this item not once but twice two days in a row.

– My hiking boots.

– My phone.

– My laptop charger.

– My water bottle

– Half a container of icing

– A pack of gum

– The Harry Potter book I borrowed.

– A sweatshirt.

– My soap

– Pajamas

– A long sleeve T-shirt

– The top to my Tupperware container

– A hair tie

– Pajamas (again)

– The spirit stick

– A towel

– my yoga pants (they were stolen)

– My other sweatshirt

– The stuffed animals I bought at the zoo



– Exactly 66 cents

– My drawstring bag with my wallet inside (2x)

– My hiking boots.

– My phone.

– My laptop charger.

– The Harry Potter book I borrowed

– A new book

– Pajamas

– My soap

– My head phones

– Exactly 7 dreidels

– A pillow

– A sweatshirt (actually Laura found it)

– The spirit stick

– My yoga pants (Mary stole them)