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The Silent Epidemic

Society & Culture  (tags: Pine Ridge reservation, suicide epidemic, short life expectancy, Indian boarding schools, elders, parenting skills lacking )

- 1103 days ago -
it was the second suicide in the family within two days. These were girls 13 and 14 years old. This is devastating news for anyone, in any family. But in Pine Ridge, like other indigenous communities who are facing a reality of existential distress


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Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Saturday October 10, 2015, 9:15 pm
a letter I received from the friend I mentioned at the beginning, the wife of a 38th generation medicine man in Pine Ridge, whose family members just killed themselves within two days of one another, which she announced to her friends on Facebook, overall not asking for prayers for herself and the family, but more for the younger generation. Perhaps she will say what needs to be said, better than I, about the tribe in which she has lived.

It is with a heavy heart that I share what is happening on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I know for most of you the Native American is invisible to you and yet, you have experienced the riches of this beautiful country that you live in because of what was taken from them. For the past two years we have been trying to figure out what we can do because our children are killing themselves at an alarming rate. But it is even escalating to the point that our Tribe (Oglala Sioux Tribe) declared a state of emergency a few weeks ago because since the beginning of January we have had seventeen attempts of children (mostly 12 to 14 years old) that have tried to kill themselves; it breaks my heart to say that eight of them succeeded. But again, this is not just something that is new -- last year there was one month that 34 kids across the reservation tried to kill themselves, I think five of them succeeded; another month 24 tried and four of them succeeded.

But if you consider that we, here on Pine Ridge, have one of lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere, second only to Haiti, one would see that there are other ways that the people here are killing themselves. And yet, you see the people and our government doing wonderful things for the people of Haiti and I believe we should. But the people in the heart of our country need help also. Because if you look at the life expectancy, you will realize really the people are killing themselves in other ways, be it alcohol and drugs, our infant mortality rate four times our national average, or diabetes eight times the national rate or cancer from the uranium trace elements or the .5 arsenic we have in our water from the uranium mining in the Black Hills.

Let me give you a look into this beautiful people and land. My husband's grandfather, who helped raise him for the first 16 years of his life, was a survivor of the Wounded Knee Massacre, "the last Indian war." He was nine as his brother threw him into a dry creek bed and told him to run towards Pine Ridge, as he was being shot. That was December 29, 1890. In 1934 my husband's father, along with the rest of the children on the reservation, was put in a residential school at Holy Rosary Mission, where Red Cloud School now resides. At six years old his head was shaved and was told that his father and his grandfather were the disciples of the devil because they were medicine men. His mouth was washed out with soap and hands beaten if he spoke Lakota, which was the only language that he spoke. But worst of all, even though his family lived just a few miles away, he could only spend time with them for the two months he was allowed to go home for the summer. Everything that was Lakota was shamed and was told was "lesser than."

We now know from research that behind most addiction is shame. His son (my husband) and this generation also had to go to the residential schools; two generations was all that it took to devastate these people. It destroyed their culture and their language; and because a child learns what it sees, they have no parenting skills now. So we live a life devastated with addiction, dysfunction, and a loss of identity and self, which translates to becoming invisible by killing themselves.

Thomas Berry, the noted environmentalist, wrote in his book, Dawn over the Earth, that what we end up doing to the Native Americans, we will end up doing to the earth, and ultimately what we do to ourselves. We had two women who came here last week to address the trauma that our children and schools are having right now due to this epidemic of suicides. They have been visiting schools and families all over the reservation. I praise their work as they have gone all over the world to deal with the trauma with the earthquake and civil war in Haiti to war zones. She said, "the whole world is going through some really hard things right now but I see Pine Ridge as like what the canary was to the mines."

I thought that very insightful as living here for the past 25 years, I felt so too.

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Saturday October 10, 2015, 9:18 pm
She said, "the whole world is going through some really hard things right now but I see Pine Ridge as like what the canary was to the mines."

I thought that very insightful as living here for the past 25 years, I felt so too.

READ FURTHER in the Article for some MORE HOPEFUL THINGS...

Past Member (0)
Saturday October 10, 2015, 9:24 pm
Indio prison farm bad. Casino no fix.

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Saturday October 10, 2015, 9:37 pm
"Resilience, while being yet another modern catch-phrase popular among current policy and academic contingents when dealing with certain crises or trauma, is indeed relevant.
Returning to the foundation of a culture for strength and empowerment is paramount to ensure a tribe's survival.
Honoring the past, including the strength and the power of ancestors, and using the emotional, psychological, and spiritual profundity of rites and ceremony to forge a connection among community members, empower individuals of the tribe
against past legacies of internment, forced assimilation, murder, outright racism and hyperbolic misrepresentations of popular culture, to the continued mistreatment by governments that still seem to consider tribal members -- in practice if not in so many words -- as inconsequential, if not less than human.'

Rose Becke (141)
Sunday October 11, 2015, 2:11 am
So true BM

Darren Woolsey (218)
Sunday October 11, 2015, 3:24 am
Identity is a big issue for most; a strong emotional issue as well. Without knowing who you are, where you've come from, you can end up feeling isolated, lost, lonely, insignificant. Identity and territory are intertwined. Most wars are fought over and around this.

Tracy Riley (54)
Sunday October 11, 2015, 5:05 am
The young are the future, but to feel they have no future, that the only way out is suicide...
I'm lost for words, this is heartbreaking.

pam w (139)
Monday October 12, 2015, 7:13 am
SO sad!

Birgit W (160)
Monday October 12, 2015, 2:23 pm
This is just heartbreaking!

Lois Jordan (63)
Monday October 12, 2015, 3:07 pm
Noted. Thanks, BMutiny.
Catholic missionaries came to America to "teach their religion," while Europeans came to start a new life. Both thought they were "better than" the indigenous people already here. It COULD have worked so well with people joining hand-in-hand to support each other and build a country that would be mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, the greedy decided they wanted fact, they wanted it all. They had no care for the lives taken, since they thought they were "right" and "better" than everyone else.
This is a wrong that must be righted, it is heartbreaking.

Past Member (0)
Monday January 18, 2016, 1:20 pm
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