A first-of-its-kind intentional community for the most at-risk children on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota.
They will be leaders
Lakota activist and artist, Frank Waln, when speaking to the children of Cheyenne River, reminded them that they are the survivors. That just to be alive today, they had to be strong, and smart, and resilient. That he was inspired – by them.
These children possess the talent needed to finally break a generations-long cycle of suffering and dependence. To do so, they need our support.
The Simply Smiles Children’s Village is an incubator for that talent. It protects and provides for Lakota children. When they arrive at our door, they are at their most vulnerable. With your backing, they will leave at their most influential. They will have become strong Lakota men and women. They will have vision and confidence. They will be leaders.
On the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota, an overwhelming number of Lakota children are unsafe in their homes.
This has left the tribal, state, and non-governmental social services infrastructure, by their own admission, insufficient to respond to the demands and complexities of this dire situation.
To protect these children, and to help them to overcome an unspeakably difficult start in life, Simply Smiles has begun the process of building and managing the first-of-its-kind Simply Smiles Children’s Village in the Reservation town of La Plant.
The Simply Smiles Children’s Village provides the infrastructure for Native people to intervene, protect, and help to raise the most vulnerable Native children.
Mission Statement: Guided by the principle of the Lakota kinship tiospaye and rooted in traditional values, the mission of the Simply Smiles Children’s Village is to foster Native children to become leaders, role models, and Lakota citizens of the world.
To offer a child placement option on the Cheyenne River Reservation that fulfills the letter and spirit of the Indian Child Welfare Act by keeping Native children who have been removed from their homes, on the Reservation, with kin and community.
To inspire and empower the children in our care to define themselves as Lakota.
To create a safe, inspiring, resource-rich environment for children.
To provide access to high quality education.
To foster tomorrow’s Native leaders and role models.
To create a scalable model that can be replicated throughout Indian Country.
The Simply Smiles Children’s Village is being executed in collaboration with Cheyenne River tribal governance and elders, with licensing from The State of South Dakota Department of Social Services, and is supported by Native American luminaries and activists across the country.
construction is underway
At this moment, the first home in the Simply Smiles Children’s Village is being built:
Support the construction of the village:
Construction of the Simply Smiles Children’s Village is taking place between 2019 and 2023 and will cost approximately $2.3 million. Children are being accepted into our care as the houses are built. The completed village will have the capacity to house and raise 36 children at a time, provide a generations long impact for hundreds of children, and serve as a replicable model across Indian Country – a replicable model that has the capacity to serve thousands of children.
The State of South Dakota has committed to funding the ongoing operations of the Simply Smiles Children’s Village once the facility is built.
What follows is the 3-year launch budget.
Operations Costs - state funded
The State of South Dakota has licensed Simply Smiles as a “Child Placement Agency”. This designation allows Simply Smiles to license and manage foster homes. Under this designation the State of South Dakota will provide funding to support the day-to-day operations of the Simply Smiles Children’s Village. (The state does not provide funding for construction or start-up costs.)
Operational funding is provided on a per child, per diem, basis.
1st Home Built
Construction began on June 28, 2019. We expect the first home to be completed by Thanksgiving.
First Kinship Parents
Training period begins for the first kinship care foster parents.
First 6 Children
Doors open, first 6 children are placed in the care of the Simply Smiles Children's Village by the tribal court of the Cheyenne River Reservation.
Next two houses and the common building are being built. Development of the property (roads, utilities, landscaping, etc.) continues.
Two additional kinship care families will welcome the next 12 children into the care of the village. (18 total children in our care.)
Expansion to full Capacity
Construction, parent recruitment, policy development, and training continue. The Simply Smiles Children's Village expands to full capacity of 6 homes and 36 total children.
Ówaŋžila means “team” in the Lakota language. Each member of our team has spent their lives and careers fighting for Native rights, children’s rights, and justice. To create the Simply Smiles Children’s Village we’ve synthesized their experience, passion, and purpose to formulate our vision, and to enact it.
Additional Advisors & Supporters
Larry Roberts: Oneida tribal member, former head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the Obama Administration, attorney with Kilpatrick & Townsend
Mary Smith: Member of The Cherokee Nation, Head of Indian Health Services during the Obama Administration
Brent Mareska: Principal, Tiospaye Topa School
Kee Lee: community representative, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation, Lakota
frequently asked questions
What is the role of non-Native allies?
With Native kinship parents and Native staff as the central figures in the children’s lives, non-Native allies play a supporting, but important role at the Simply Smiles Children’s Village. Simply Smiles volunteers and staff, from around the world, work to generate resources and raise awareness for the village. Non-Native allies also help to build, maintain, and expand the facility. They run programs for the children and help with day-to-day operations. But perhaps most importantly, non-Native allies help to provide access to a world beyond the borders of the Reservation, playing their part in a partnership that fosters “Lakota Citizens of the World”.
Can non-Native persons be kinship care parents?
Only in emergencies and for limited periods of time. While non-Natives are capable of loving and providing for Native children in need, the central component of the Simply Smiles Children’s Village is Native people raising Native children in a manner rooted in Lakota tradition and culture. When Native children are removed from their families and communities and placed in a non-Native environment they often suffer from “split feather syndrome”, which describes a loss of identity and sense of belonging. Such profound loss – of culture, heritage, language, spiritual beliefs and tribal affiliation – at an early age has been shown to manifest itself later in alcoholism, substance abuse, social disability and psychological challenges.
Can the children be adopted?
Yes. Though the tribal court of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is the only institution that can authorize the adoption of a Native child from the Reservation.