Wahwala Iyohlogya (Peaceful Means)

Lakota pronunciation: Wock-wa-la / Ee-yo-khlohg-ya

The Wahwala Iyohlogya, which translates to Peaceful Means in English, is an Indigenous-led sexual violence prevention initiative on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The project’s expected impact is to reduce sexual violence among Indigenous persons throughout the U.S., and to provide all Indigenous K-12 youth with the opportunity to receive a culturally adapted version of the IMpower program by 2050. The collaborative effort is funded by a $3.2 million University of Nebraska–Lincoln Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition grant.

Overview Handout 1 Overview Handout 2 Community Report

Information for Caretakers/Guardians & Youth Participants

Facts about Peaceful Means

Supporting Survivors and Self-Indigenized


Project Details

Vision and approach:

The long-term goal of this work is to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, sexual violence among Indigenous peoples across the U.S. To achieve this goal, we will accomplish the following:

  • Year 1: Establish the Wahwala Iyohlogya on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
  • Year 2: Staff will lead a community-wide implementation and evaluation of the culturally adapted IMpower program on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
  • Years 3 & 4: Staff will work with Indigenous community members and other partners in South Dakota and Nebraska to adapt, implement and evaluate the IMpower system in their communities.

Key elements
  • Indigenous voices: Input and participation from Indigenous community partners are essential. All research will be done after receiving tribal approval. Tribes will own the data from their respective communities.
  • Inclusivity: IMpower programming includes sexual violence prevention for both girls and boys, and will be adapted to include programming focused on LGBTQ Two-Spirit+ Native youths’ experiences.
  • Opportunity: The project promises to create jobs and provide training and education opportunities within Indigenous communities.
  • Dissemination: A youth-led documentary will be produced to highlight the strengths and resilience of Indigenous communities and the impact of the project. Findings will be shared widely among researchers, practitioners, policymakers and community members.
  • Sustainability: Long-term sustainability of the project as an Indigenous-led organization is a key focus of the work.

The expected impact of this collective work is to witness dramatic reductions in sexual violence among Indigenous persons across the U.S. with the hopes that all Indigenous youth will have the opportunity to receive a culturally adapted version of the IMpower initiative by 2050. The Wahwala Iyohlogya project is unprecedented in terms of scope and likely impact.


The project includes the Interpersonal Violence Research Laboratory, IMpower United, and a number of Tribal nations, Native leaders and Native-led organizations.

About the name

Wahwala Iyohlogya (Peaceful Means) was formally named in late 2022 with community input from Pine Ridge community members to inspire others to reconsider what it means to end conflict using peaceful means. The purpose of empowerment self-defense is to end violence where it begins by using skills that prevent escalation and further harm. Boys’ classes foster inner peace and resistance to toxic masculinity — the antithesis of what it means to be a Lakota man. Also, peace and harmony play a central role in Lakota history and culture. The ancestors remind us that we must treat all living things with respect to live in harmony and peace. Peace also comes from within. Inner peace and peacemaking are at the core of all IMpower programming.

Give us a blessing so that our words and actions be one in unity and that we be able to listen to each other. In so doing, we shall, with good heart, walk hand-in-hand to face the future. In the presence of the outside, we are thankful for many blessings. I make my prayer for all people, the children, the women and the men. I pray that no harm will come to them, and that on the great island, there be no war, that there be no ill feelings among us. From this day on, may we walk hand in hand. So be it.”

— Frank Fools Crow, Old Lord of the Holy Men, Ceremonial Chief and Medicine Man of the Oglala Lakota Nation

In the news


Grand Challenges research effort aims to prevent sexual violence among Indigenous youth

By Chuck Green, Communications Associate, CYFS

For Native American communities throughout the U.S., sexual violence remains a significant problem. Its negative impacts have spanned generations of Indigenous peoples.

Ethleen Iron Cloud Two Dogs, Oglala Lakota elder and cultural consultant, notes that in the Lakota language, sexual violence and other types of severe violations of a sexual nature are referred to as ‘sil okihan,’ with the concept being violation to the person’s spiritual, physical, mental and emotional aspects of their being. Prior to colonization, she said, sil okihan was virtually non-existent in Native communities.

For the past six years, Nebraska educational psychologist Katie Edwards has worked with Native American communities and organizations to combat sexual violence — a trauma Indigenous peoples experience at rates higher than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S.

“Violence among Indigenous peoples is rooted in colonization and multiple historical traumas, as well as ongoing systemic racism and oppression,” said Nebraska educational psychologist Katie Edwards, director of the Interpersonal Violence Research Laboratory (IVRL).

Indigenous peoples are highly resilient — something that is attributed to their connection to their cultures. So there is increasing recognition that effective prevention efforts for Indigenous peoples need to be culturally grounded.”

— Katie Edwards, principal investigator

Relatedly, Gene Tyon Executive Director of Oaye Luta Okolakiciye (Moving forward in a Sacred way). said: “Racism is also a pernicious problem in this region that has devastating impacts on our youth. Racism is also a contributor to sexual violence among Native Americans.”

Now, with $3.21 million in funding from a 2022-23 UNL Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition grant, Edwards, associate professor, CYFS and educational psychology, is co-leading a four-year project to establish an Indigenous-led sexual violence prevention facility on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

The new facility will be called Wahwala Iyohlogya, which translates to "Peaceful Means" in English. It will create jobs, provide training and education opportunities, and bring IMpower, an evidence-based sexual violence prevention program, to K-12 youth at Pine Ridge. With extensive community input and guidance from Elders, IMpower will be culturally adapted.

“Through my many years working on the Pine Ridge reservation, I have served an alarming number of sexual abuse survivors who carry their trauma from childhood with them every day,” said Lisa Schrader, executive director of Native Connections, a Pine Ridge youth organization. “All our children deserve a fighting chance to live healthy, prosperous lives. They deserve the educational tools needed to fight back against sexual violence.”

The project aims to reduce — and strives to eliminate — sexual violence among Indigenous persons throughout the U.S., and to provide all Indigenous K-12 youth with the opportunity to receive a culturally adapted version of IMpower by 2050.

Developed in 2009 by Lee Paiva, founder and executive director of No Means No Worldwide and IMpower United, IMpower is an evidence-based, comprehensive sexual violence prevention program and support system for survivors.

Results from a recently completed pilot evaluation of IMpower on a Native American reservation in South Dakota demonstrated that a culturally adapted curriculum reduced rates of sexual violence by 80%.

“People often don’t want to talk about sexual violence,” Paiva said. “Where IMpower comes in, it’s like a glacier. It starts to make these cracks and things start to flow again as the truth comes out. There are secrets that come out, and it takes a lot of courage to pass through that phase and allow healing to start. My fervent hope is that those cracks start to happen.”

In addition to programming for girls, IMpower includes gender transformative, sexual violence prevention for boys that aligns with traditional roles of boys and men in Native communities.

“It is our hope to assist in returning the role of protector to our young men in our support of reducing and eliminating sexual violence on our reservation,” said Mike Henry, director of the Santee Sioux Nation Health and Wellness Center.

Mona Zuffante, Enrolled Member of the Seneca Cayuga Nation of Oklahoma and Public Health Administrator of the Winnebago Comprehensive Healthcare System said: “The community has been affected for centuries with oppression, and IMpower creates the opportunity to allow the youth to be able to grow and expand their knowledge and sense of self.”

IMpower will also be adapted to include programming focused on LGBTQ two-spirit+ Native youths’ experiences.

“There is a desperate need for healing prevention work, inclusive of our Native LGBTQ two-spirit+ relatives,” said Lenny Hayes, two-spirit Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and owner and operator of Tate Topa Consulting, LLC.

SVPC In the project’s first year, Peaceful Means will be established at Pine Ridge. Its start-up will rely on community engagement and coordination activities, cultural adaptation of IMpower and intensive staff training in program adaptation, implementation and evaluation.

Once staff are trained, they will lead a communitywide implementation and evaluation of the culturally adapted IMpower program on the Pine Ridge reservation, which will provide staff with hands-on training in program implementation and evaluation.

Peaceful Means staff will work with Indigenous community members and partnering agencies in South Dakota and Nebraska to adapt, implement and evaluate IMpower in each community. They will also host training events and seminars, and will share their findings with researchers, practitioners, policymakers and community members.

The project also includes a youth-led documentary that will follow the establishment of Peaceful Means and the implementation of IMpower. Through storytelling and other Indigenous methods, the documentary will highlight the strengths and resilience of Native American communities, and efforts toward reducing sexual violence among Indigenous peoples.

Guided by Sharon Teo-Gooding, professor of film at the Johnny Carson School of Theater and Film, Indigenous youth will learn about filmmaking, from conceptualization to shooting and editing, and will participate with elders in the premier of the film locally and nationally.

“Empowering youth to tell their own community’s stories is an important aspect of documentary work, especially with Native Americans,” Grey Eagle said. “This aspect of the grant is a key component in communication and further amplifies the voice of our own community.”

Throughout the project, all research will be done after receiving tribal approval. Tribes will own the data from their respective communities.

There will also be ample training opportunities for UNL studens and postdocs as well as for students at tribal colleges. In a collective statement by current UNL students and postdocs, they said: “We are excited about the opportunity to work with students at tribal colleges across the U.S. and learn from leaders in Indian Country, especially about Indigenous ways of knowing that are not often taught in the classroom. We and other UNL students will utilize the information we learn from these opportunities to carry out decolonizing approaches to research and practice at UNL and other spaces we will eventually occupy upon graduation.”

We desperately need this work to save our women and girls, to save our men and boys and to save our two-spirit. This initiative is the destiny of our oyate (people).”

— Ramona Herrington, Oglala Lakota and IVRL cultural outreach manager

Damon Leader Charge, director of tribal outreach, University of South Dakota, said Peaceful Means will play a significant role in chipping away at historical and intergenerational traumas Indigenous people have suffered.

“We have had waves of colonization come in to tell us how we need to be fixed,” he said. “We know how we need to be fixed; it’s just getting to that point, which is easier said than done. But more and more people are learning worldwide that we can’t ‘just get over it.’”

Along with Edwards, Herrington and Teo-Gooding, UNL team members include Lorey Wheeler, CYFS research associate professor; Theodore Hibbeler, tribal education and engagement Extension educator; and several postdoctoral and undergraduate scholars.

“This is an important opportunity for UNL to expand strong relationships with Nebraska tribal communities,” said Hibbeler, Sicangu Lakota.

Bridget Diamond-Welch, director of research and innovation at the University of South Dakota’s School of Health Sciences, is also a project collaborator.

Damon Leader Charge said Peaceful Means will play a significant role in chipping away at historical and intergenerational traumas Indigenous people have suffered. As the oldest of six siblings, he saw abuse in his own family. He knew even at an early age that some of the behavior he witnessed “wasn’t the way you were supposed to treat your loved one,” he said.

“I could have become a statistic,” Leader Charge said. “But I was raised by countless, beautiful, strong women on both sides of my family to know that kind of treatment was wrong.”

Leon Leader Charge, UNL prevention specialist consultant, said the project’s effects will be lasting.

“What we create will go on for generations long after we are gone,” he said. “This is what we are working on to leave for our relatives.”

Learn more about this project on the CYFS Research Network. This project aligns with the UNL Grand Challenges of anti-racism and racial equity and health equity.