Understanding the Historical Uses, Current Uses, and Importance of Native Plants on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation

Final Report for YENC08-004

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2008: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Manager:
Justine Kougl
South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension
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Project Information


1. Teach youth on the reservation about the land that they live on.
2. Help youth identify and understand plant life and its uses.
3. Create a native plants book and learning tool-kit for teachers, schools, and educators to use to teach youth about the native plants in the area.
4. Utilize the elders in the communities to help create a cultural understanding of the plant life and its uses to the Native American people.

1. The planning group established relationships with the Eagle Butte School and Summer School as well as the Timber Lake School. This was done in order to gain their partnership on the project.
2. The decision was made to utilize the summer school program and create a 5-day Range Camp in July 2009. Using the 4-H program will provide help to gather the cool season grasses in June.
3. A Range Plant Day Camp was held with the 4-H Program in Dewey County at the Little Moreau Park in June 2009 to gather plants and teach the youth about the plants, land, camera use, and how to properly press plants. These plants were than laminated at the Summer School camp.
4. This is what the agenda looked like for the days of the 5-day camp in July:
• Day 1: Range Plant classroom activities, teach proper use of the camera and how to photograph plants, and Build plant presses with the Youth.
• Day 2: Field trip to a pasture South of Eagle Butte for Photographing, Digging and Pressing Plants. (Use of Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA] Land Operations Personnel, Eagle Butte School Personnel, and South Dakota State University [SDSU] Cooperative Extension Service [CES] Educators).
• Day 3: Range Plant Classroom Fun, work with Identifying and Laminating cool season plants gathered by the 4-H’ers in June.
• Day 4: Research and writing on Cultural uses, medicinal uses, forage value, impact on sustainability of site, human food uses, and any unique characteristics. (However, we had a younger group (1st thru 6th grade) trying to work on this part of the project and it did not interest them. So we broke it away from the summer camp and used another group of older students to complete this part of the project.)
• Day 5: Field trip to the Brueschke Lake area. While at the site we had a Plant Identification Contest (with the plants in the area marked off, the youth had to name the plants on their paper). The youth were than paired up and given GPS units and papers with coordinates on it for a plant scavenger hunt. (This worked great, the only thing to change would be to introduce the GPS ahead of time and work with the youth prior to the trip so they would have a better understanding of how to use the unit before going out to a field).
5. The Extension Educators and volunteers who worked on this project, spent time preparing and laminating the plants that were gathered at the Summer School Range Camp so they would be ready to go into the toolkit for future use.
6. The Timber Lake 8th Grade Science Class was used to do the research and writing part of the project. The project was introduced by two Extension Educators and a member of the Native American Wisdom Keepers (Elder’s group in Cheyenne River). After doing the research the students used a book template to make all the information look alike to get ready for printing.
7. The Extension Educators and volunteers took the final drafts of the student’s information and performed one final edit before the book was printed in hardcopy as well as put onto CD’s for future use by the public and the surrounding school systems.

Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School District
• Cora Petersen (Upper Elementary Principal and 4-H Parent) – Assisted in getting the Summer School Camp planned. Volunteered at both the Summer School Camp and 4-H Range Day Camp.
• Summer School Staff (Teachers & Aides) – Assisted with Summer School Camp. Helped with discipline and in the classroom.

BIA Land Operations
• Jeri Ann Vines – Assisted with planning, teaching, facilitating the entire project.
• Doug Lawrence – Assisted with teaching about plants as well as Day #2 of Summer School Camp.
• Jayme Murray – Assisted with Day #2 of Summer School Camp – Identifying, Digging, and pressing plants.
• Bryan Holmes - Assisted with Day #2 of Summer School Camp – Identifying, Digging, and pressing plants.
• Bill Gunville - Assisted with Day #2 of Summer School Camp – Identifying, Digging, and pressing plants.

Dewey County Natural Resource Conservation
• April Boltjes – Assisted with Day #2 of Summer School Camp.

SDSU Cooperative Extension Service Educators
• Mike Huber - Assisted with planning, teaching, facilitating the entire project.
• Justine Kougl - Assisted with planning, teaching, facilitating the entire project.
• Clint Clark - Assisted with Day #2 of Summer School Camp as well as the 4-H Range Day Camp at Little Moreau Park.
• Maurice Lemke - Assisted with Day #2 of Summer School Camp as well as the 4-H Range Day Camp at Little Moreau Park.

Timber Lake School District
• Mrs. Cara Biegler(8th Grade Teacher) – Assisted with the research and writing of the Native Plants of Cheyenne River South Dakota book.

Through this project nearly 50 youth were taught about the importance of taking care of the land where they live. Nineteen youth received over twelve hours and another 5 youth received six to nine hours of hands-on learning at the Timber Lake Range Day and/or the Eagle Butte Summer School Range Camp. These students gained knowledge of plants, plant systems, taking care of the land, and how plants help the earth and us. The audience for this part of the project was youth grades 1st thru 6th (Native American – 85%, Caucasian – 15%). The students filled out Pre and Post Evaluations showing nearly 90% gained some knowledge about plant and land sustainability. Several comments included: “I learned most when we went out to the field (to gather plants.” “I really enjoyed learning about plants and GPS.” “I learned most when we had the plant contest.”

The second part of the project (creating a Native Plants of Cheyenne River South Dakota Book) was put together by the Timber Lake 8th Grade Class (on the Cheyenne River Reservation). The twenty four students of this class were given a cultural overview of native plants by the Cheyenne River’s Wisdom Keepers (Elder’s group) to kick off the project. The students then gathered resources and information to use as they put together the book that will be distributed around the Cheyenne River Reservation Schools as well as to other schools looking for a project to teach youth about the importance of plants. These students worked over a two week period on this research project. Some of the things they had to say about the project were:
• “If we don’t preserve the cultural heritage the future generation won’t be able to experience the same stuff as we have. They won’t know about all of the uses for the plants.”
• “Understanding the culture about what it was like long ago is important. We have to preserve plants because many Native Americans would use the plants for many reasons. Some reasons are medicinal use, food and others.”
• “Some ways to preserve culture is by keeping how they [people] lived alive and by remembering the language. Like by doing the research [in this project] it helps me to see what my ancestors used them [the plants] for. I didn’t realize that so many plants can do so many things. Also you should be proud of your culture, and one way to show that is by preserving it.” “Cultures are a part of history and if they are lost then a part of history will be missing. Ways of life can be lost. If it is not preserved, sacred cultural ideas may be destroyed.”

The results were better than we expected. Teaching 50 youth in our area about the importance of sustaining our lands and preserving the plants and the Native American culture was a great impact. Towards the end of our program with the youth, they were able to identify the plants both in and out of the field and most showed a real interest in learning more about plant life and the historical and present day uses of the plants. I would highly recommend this program to others. The only change I would have made to the program is to plan to have an older group work on the research part of the project. The younger kids did a great job and they learned some but they were not experienced enough with basic research to get the project done affectively.

This project was shared with the citizens of Cheyenne River through the Dewey and Ziebach County Extension Offices via the West River Eagle newspaper (circulation 2200 papers). It was important to let the community know about what the youth were learning and also gave them an opportunity to come and volunteer as helpers on our field trip days. The youth and their families received information about the happenings of the Summer School Range Camp and as soon as the Cheyenne River Plants Book is printed they will each receive a copy.

The planning committee for this project is working on finishing up the last details so that the book can be printed and ready for distribution through the Timber Lake 8th Grade Class (for their Timber Lake Centennial Project), it will also be distributed throughout the reservation schools so that the teachers and administration know that the kit is available for their use to teach more students about the land and the importance of preserving it.

I thought this grant opportunity was a very beneficial project. I hope to see it continue to help Educators teach youth about the importance of agriculture and how we can sustain it.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.