Indian reservation

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is fighting youth suicides

“It was cold, it was dark and there was a row of trees with ropes hanging from the branches,” he said. “I was grateful that I was able to get there without finding anyone hanging from those ropes.”

Credit…Kristina Barker for The New York Times

Some teenagers had already gathered there, he said, and he urged them to gather. “I advised them, I prayed with them, I spoke with them,” he said. They told him that “they were tired of the life they had at home, without food, with parents all intoxicated, and some were suffering abuse, mental or sexual”.

Mental health professionals said they suspected that in some cases the youngsters may have been influenced by previous suicides. Feeling neglected, they may be drawn to the public displays of mourning that follow a death; and as soon as they hear about the method of suicide, they imitate it.

“The contagion happens with teenagers,” said Stephanie Schweitzer Dixon, executive director of the Porch Coalition, a suicide prevention group in Rapid City, SD “The kids are young, they don’t think clearly, their brains aren’t fully developed. I know things seem to be getting worse for the kids. Things seem to be getting worse. »

Ted Hamilton, principal of Red Cloud Indian School, a Jesuit school on the reservation, says suicide is a problem that schools constantly face.

“Being Lakota in this world is a challenge because they want to maintain their own culture, but they’re being told their culture isn’t succeeding,” Hamilton said. Children on Indian reservations, he added, face extraordinary challenges: the legacy of oppression and forced evictions, lack of jobs and economic opportunities, and high levels of drugs and alcohol consumption around them.

Credit…Kristina Barker for The New York Times