National Center’s Chris James Talks Youth Entrepreneurship and Technology With Founders of Square Inc. & the Cheyenne River Youth Project

By Kristin Butler

‘Lakota in America,’ a short film created by Square, premiered on Twitter and at squareup.com/dreams on Indigenous Peoples Day, October 9. The 15-minute film offers an intimate glimpse of life and challenges on the largely impoverished Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Meanwhile, it illustrates how the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) is empowering native youth through access to safe spaces, holistic programming and internships. ‘Lakota in America’ tells the story of a local teen, Genevieve Iron Lightning, and her involvement with CRYP’s innovative internship program.

Chris James, president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, recently joined Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Square, Inc. and Twitter, and Julie Garreau, founder and executive director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP), for the private unveiling of the film to the Lakota community. The screening took place during CRYP’s Harvest Festival on September 27, hosted on the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. The annual Harvest Festival celebrates the bounty of CRYP’s youth-tended Winyan Toka Win garden. In honor of the film’s debut, the three leaders participated in a panel discussion about youth entrepreneurship and technology in reservation communities.

Among many financial services, Square is responsible for a popular point-of-sale software used by retailers worldwide—including by CRYP’s Keya Café, its coffee shop in Eagle Butte. At Keya Café, CRYP interns learn essential vocational and communication skills—from how to make a latte to how to manage a cash register and track inventory.

In 2013, the first year of the internship program, CRYP graduated 10 interns. By the end of 2017, nearly 500 internships will have been completed in sustainable agriculture, social enterprise, wellness and art. “Through these internships, our young people have been able to explore their interests, find their own voices and passions, build self-confidence, learn to advocate for themselves, serve as mentors for the younger children in our community, strengthen the connection they have with their Lakota culture, and develop critical job and life skills that will serve them well beyond high school and throughout the rest of their lives.”

CRYP’s programs and internships teach youth leadership, financial literacy, college financial planning, resume building and customer service. Students have earned certifications in food handling, First Aid and CPR “They have become valued members of our team here at CRYP, and in the process, they’ve also started to envision a future in which they aren’t just surviving — they’re thriving, in their careers, and in terms of their own holistic wellness. That’s the future they so richly deserve,” Garreau said.

“I think the beauty of a center like this is you’re also building leadership skills and entrepreneurship,” James said. “You’re building the next generation of leaders here in the community, developing work skills and workforce development….”

Iron Lightning exemplifies CRYP’s powerful impact, and the resilience and optimism of so many young Lakota people. “It makes you feel independent. The internships help you prepare for life after high school,” Iron Lightening said in the film. “I will go to college and come back and help my community in any way that I can. It’s a struggle here, but it’s my home.”

During the panel discussion, James also underscored how technology enhances cultural and language preservation—critical to youth identity. Thanks to that access, native youth, particularly those involved in CRYP, are helping to heal generational trauma through community connection and involvement. “They’re on the cutting edge of that healing power,” James said.

Square’s Film Series: For Every Kind of Dream

‘Lakota In America’ is Square’s third film in the company’s ongoing series, For Every Kind of Dream, documenting the dreams of small business owners in America. “The other stories have been focusing on folks [or a community] in massive transition,” Dorsey said.

Each story speaks to a fundamental belief that underlies Square’s work: that dreams can be achieved when people are empowered with access to the right tools. “Julie [Garreau] recognized that it was really important to give the youth of her community confidence early. If we can establish those behaviors early, it builds, and it’s actually infectious as well,” Dorsey said. “If one child sees confidence, another child wants it.”

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