Archive for September, 2008

Why We Do the Work We Do-Native Youth Suicide Rates Skyrocket

Below is a recent article just published about the devastating rate of suicide on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The reservation has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. We are losing so many Native youth and young adults across the country to suicide, violence, gangs and substance abuse.

We do not claim to have all the answers, but NVision wants to be a part of solutions that will empower our youth, give them hope, opportunities and the chance to become the next generation of leaders.

Please take a moment to read the article below.

Ta’Tura Tsiksu (With Much Respect)

Why are young Lakota killing themselves?
South Dakota reservation’s suicide rate said to be among highest in world

September 21, 2008

MISSION – In the hospital that evening, sobbing, wracked by despair, Marie Wilcox cried out in the sorrow of a mother and a nation.

Hours earlier, she had returned to her trailer east of Mission to find her 18-year-old son, Stoney Larvie, hanging from the rafters on their deck with a dog leash around his neck.

Now in the emergency room in Rosebud, an inconsolable Wilcox lashed out as she tried to fix blame for her loss and find answers for an act she never saw coming.

“I was mad at him. Maybe a little bit, I’m still angry,” Wilcox, 41, says. “He gave up on me. He gave up, for what reason, I don’t know. And not understanding why hurts the most.

It is a pain felt across the Rosebud Reservation in south-central South Dakota today by a people, the Sicangu Lakota, who are struggling to understand the spirit of death that has descended upon their homeland.

Other reservations in the state have experienced suicide outbreaks in recent years. But on Rosebud the numbers are higher, the duration longer, than elsewhere. The usual tactics for curbing the behavior don’t seem to be working.

Since 2005, at least 28 tribal members – most of them teens and 20-somethings – have killed themselves by hanging, overdosing on drugs or slashing their wrists. Sports stars and student scholars are among them. So are the broken spirits born of alcoholic and impoverished homes.

In 2007 alone, the reservation’s suicide rate soared to 141 per 100,000 people – and a staggering 201 per 100,000 for males ages 15 to 24, what some experts call among the highest incidence in the world.

That compares to a national rate in America of 11 or 12 per 100,000.

“It is an epidemic,” said tribal President Rodney Bordeaux, whose tribal council declared a state of emergency because of the suicides in March 2007. “The professionals tell us this kind of thing is cyclical. But we’re going on three years now. We want it to stop.

In an effort to rein in the numbers, the Centers for Disease Control sent in a team early this year to assess the problem and look for solutions. Its report isn’t final yet.

The Department of Health and Human Services responded as well, marshaling additional mental health providers to help Indian Health Service specialists already stretched to the limit.

Meanwhile, a coalition of tribal individuals and agencies called the Rosebud Suicide Task Force has taken the lead in the battle. Federal dollars and state suicide prevention specialists have been used in schools and in reservation communities to teach students, teachers, tribal employees and local leaders how to recognize suicidal tendencies and direct those affected to help.

Public service announcements, billboards and prevention videos have been produced. Task force representatives have gone out to other reservations that have endured suicide surges to see how they are combatting the problem. And the tribe recently was awarded almost $500,000 to establish a place from which to implement its suicide prevention strategies.

Yet for all that, the numbers in 2008 remain troubling on the Rosebud Reservation.

There were three suicides in July alone, pushing the total to eight for the year. By mid-July, mental health providers had reported 1,849 visits to the Rosebud Comprehensive Health Care Facility where the primary purpose for being seen was suicidal inclinations. That number included an astonishing 68 visits by children 1 to 4 years old.

“A lot of that is modeling behavior,” Dr. Dan Foster, a clinical psychologist for IHS in Rosebud, said at a suicide summit in July of the youngest patients.

“Some suicides have been very public, hangings in backyards. So many of these little ones we see have witnessed or been affected by it.

Certainly, what’s happening now at Rosebud is not unique to South Dakota, or to Indian Country across America. Pierre saw a surge in the 1990s. And earlier this decade, the Crow Creek, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock reservations all experienced surges in suicide.

Five years ago on the Crow Creek Reservation, his tribe “was averaging two to three attempts a day,” said Tolly Estes, a community health aide for Indian Health Services. And in 2005, Julie Garreau, executive director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project, testified before a U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee that her reservation was seeing three to seven suicide attempts every week.

Among those was a highly publicized suicide cluster in which young men made a suicide pact with each other, drew numbers and then hanged themselves in order as their numbers came up.

But why? What is it about reservation life today that has fostered such despair?

At a suicide summit in July in Mission, tribal officials indicated that there had been 519 suicide attempts or gestures from Jan. 1, 2005, through this past June 27 on the reservation.

Of those surveyed afterward about the leading contributing factors to their attempts:

# 136 referred to the death of a friend or relative.

# 127 talked about a history of substance abuse or dependency.

# 97 had experienced a divorce, separation or breakup of a romantic relationship.

# 91 pointed to the suicide of a friend or relative.

“Obviously, it’s much more complicated than all of that,” said Dr. Pat Iron Shell-Hill, mental health director for the Wanbli Wiconi Tipi juvenile detention center west of Mission.

“There’s no one answer. Parenting, gangs, poverty … they all play a role.

Many point to the historical trauma inflicted upon a horse-and-buffalo society whose culture and land were decimated by the U.S. government.

At Rosebud, as elsewhere, the Lakota once were a people of extended families living in camps that eventually evolved into reservation communities today called Upper Cut Meat, Two Strike and He Dog, said Bill Akard, an anthropologist who teaches at Sinte Gleska University in Mission. They ruled over themselves and made decisions based on what was best for the family, Akard said. But the reservation system that gave rise to cluster housing, relocation and a style of government foreign to them changed all that.

“Cluster housing made a point of breaking up families,” Akard said.

“And the corruption you see in politics now on reservations is a product of the system. Before, people you represented were your relatives. Now you’re not related to the people you represent. You don’t owe them anything.

Against that backdrop, many have left the reservations, weakening extended families even further. And exacerbating the plight of those who remain was a federal policy of trying to integrate the Lakota into mainstream society by banning their language and religion, particularly in the boarding school settings, Akard said.

Mix in the consequences of living in what are now some of the poorest places in America, “and you can see how it leads to hopelessness and to suicide,” he said.

It’s a hopelessness revealed, for example, in high school dropout rates. In fall 2004, 256 students started at Todd County High School as incoming freshmen. This spring, 56 of them graduated, according to Bryan Burnette, who works in student information support for the school district.

“Education plays a big role in students’ levels of confidence and self-esteem,” Burnette said.

“You can see what these numbers show.

In families that are no longer intact, children don’t get to be children, Akard said. Many don’t even get to go to school.

“I’ve heard children say, ‘All the adults are drunk,’ ” he said. “Or, ‘I had to go get the groceries. I had to watch the baby.’ Or, ‘I had to go get the medicine. I never got to be a kid.

That’s a story to which many young people on the reservation can relate. In Rosebud, 15-year-old Megan Valandra estimates that at least half of her friends have attempted or thought about suicide, often because of situations at home.

“Usually they are taking care of younger siblings because of alcohol or drug problems with their parents,” she said. “Sometimes it’s over a relationship. … they broke up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“But there was a freshman that did it because of family problems. Another was family problems. And some kids probably had problems at school.

At its worse, the despair can reach all the way down into early childhood. The Rev. Jack Moore, pastor at Christian Life Fellowship in Mission, said he once asked a fourth-grade boy what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“He said, ‘I probably won’t grow up. I’ll probably just be a drunk,’ ” Moore recalled.

At the juvenile detention center, where Iron Shell-Hill works at convincing young people of the value of their lives at 30, 40, 50 and beyond, “they just tell me how many times they’ve attempted suicide,” she said. “They say, ‘I’m not going to live beyond 20.

Observers say another critical influence on self-esteem and self-worth on the reservations has been the rise of gangs, especially in the past 10 to 15 years.

Young people who get no sense of nurturing, support or belonging at home find it now in the gang colors of the Crips, Bloods and others.

Iron Shell-Hill talks about young boys being beaten as part of the rituals to join gangs, or to leave them. And, similarly, girls are “sexualized,” Iron Shell-Hill said, as part of the same rituals.

“I’ve heard some young boys, 9 and 10 years old, who outside of their families say, ‘I’m trying to decide what gang I want to get into,’ ” she said. “That’s because there isn’t enough active parenting going on to dissuade them.

In a survey of Todd County students a year ago, the biggest complaint was that young people didn’t feel safe for fear of gangs. And some professional people working on the reservation say they have discussed with their spouses allowing teenage children to join gangs simply as a way to provide them protection from other gangs’ members.

Tribal President Bordeaux said even his family has been touched by the issue. In 2002, his kindergarten-age son was transferred out of Rosebud to a country school “basically because of bullying and no intervention by the teacher,” Bordeaux said. “He refused to go to school.

Christopher Grant, a national Native American gang specialist based out of Rapid City, said suicide probably is an option that someone trapped in gang involvement considers.

“They don’t see a way out,” Grant said. “Their friends don’t want them to leave, they are being assaulted if they leave and, most importantly, the enemies they’ve made don’t recognize them as no longer being gang-involved.

“I can certainly see scenarios where young people … see suicide as the only way out.

While gang pressure certainly can be a factor, it doesn’t fit all suicides, said Dr. Dan Foster, the clinical psychologist at the Indian Health Service in Rosebud.

Rather, the two common denominators he sees most often in those who attempt suicide are the presence of intense psychological pain and the absence of meaningful spiritual values.

“Their parents may embrace some kind of spirituality, or their families do, like attending sun dances or going to church,” Foster said. “But these young people don’t embrace anything. You see a great vacuum in the things directing them.

Some blame the boarding schools for that. With their native language and religion banned in the schools – and the practice of their sacred pipe rituals outlawed by the U.S. government until the late 1970s – generations of Lakota simply fell away from any kind of religious practices and never found their way back.

So if you ask youth on the reservation today what they believe, “the majority won’t be able to tell you,” said Moore, the pastor at Christian Life Fellowship. “They can’t tell you if they’re religious. They can’t tell you if they have a relationship with God.

“What does that mean? It means our children are beginning to act on instinct rather than conscience. If you’re operating on instinct, you develop a survival mode. Conscience is what keeps mankind from destroying mankind.

Her son was not a churchgoer, Marie Wilcox said. He didn’t attend sweat ceremonies or sun dances.

But he wasn’t into drugs or alcohol, either, she insisted. And what makes it so confusing is that her son had his passions – sports, fishing, his girlfriend.

That’s why now, more than two years since his death on May 12, 2006, it continues to makes no sense to her and a reservation desperately looking for answers.

He left no note, no explanation except a supernatural encounter that Wilcox said she had with him the evening after he died.

She was in the hospital, Wilcox said, when “I felt his spirit. He put his arms around me and said, ‘Don’t do that. Don’t blame anyone.’ I said, ‘I won’t. Just come home.

But he never did, of course, she said. He just walked away, never turning around, leaving a mother to grieve and the Rosebud nation to wonder why.

Reach reporter Steve Young at 331-2306.

NVision is now recruiting for the 2008-2009 Colorado LEAD Apprentice Cohort!

CONTACT: Crystal Echo Hawk, NVision
Tel: 303.895.0995 Email: nvision@pawneestar.com

NVision is now recruiting for the 2008-2009 Colorado LEAD Apprentice Cohort!

LEAD Fellow Application Deadline October 22, 2008

Longmont, CO – First Nations Development Institute’s Leadership & Entrepreneurial Apprentice Development (LEAD) Program is a unique American Indian nonprofit leadership development opportunity for motivated individuals seeking to create a stronger future for tribal or reservation-based nonprofit organizations. The goal of the program is to support the growth of future American Indian nonprofit leaders by educating and training emerging leaders in Native nonprofit management. First Nations has selected NVision, a national non-profit organization and affiliate project of the Seventh Generation Fund based in Longmont, CO, to serve as the host organization for the Colorado LEAD cohort program. Five to twelve emerging Native professionals in the Denver/Boulder metro area will be selected for the year-long program who are interested in acquiring the professional development, mentorship and leadership training opportunities provided by the program. NVision, in partnership with First Nations Development Institute, will seek to accomplish this goal by offering leadership development opportunities for emerging Native leaders who are either seeking to work in the nonprofit field or are already employed by a Native nonprofit.

The Colorado LEAD cohort will be comprised of the following activities, which are funded by First Nations Development Institute.

1. Monthly mentoring meetings to be held at various locations throughout the Denver/Boulder metro area. NVision leadership will host these meetings that will provide important educational and professional development opportunities through engagement with local Native nonprofit and/or business leaders who will serve as mentors to LEAD fellows.

2. Quarterly training sessions to be facilitated by either NVision or First Nations Development Institute that will be centered on the following areas: Native Leadership, Fundraising, Program Management & Evaluation, and Financial Management.

3. Quarterly symposiums and networking events will be hosted by NVision for LEAD fellows with Native and non-Native non-profit, business and community leaders.

4. Attendance at LEAD training events including the annual LEAD Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico April 7-9th, 2009. LEAD fellows will also have the opportunity to participate in a portion of the Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) annual conference to be held in Albuquerque April 7-8, 2009. LEAD fellows’ travel and participation at the NAP & LEAD annual conferences will be fully funded by First Nations Development Institute.

Please note this is a yearlong commitment from November 1 to October 31, 2009. If you are interested in participating and would like to obtain a LEAD fellow application, please contact Crystal Echo Hawk, President of NVision at 303.895.0995 or via email at nvision@pawneestar.com. Applications are due by October 22, 2008.

Iowa Nation Youth Produce PSA

Video of youth training at the Iowa Nation. Youth made.

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