By Hannah Wharton and Darcey Lindsey
The news tends to forget all about what’s going on up North on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. They choose to look past the horrible incidents simply because it isn’t important to the rest of society. Everyone has heard of at least one person who has tried or succeeded in committing suicide. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with one death by suicide every 13 minutes. There are about 100,000 deaths by suicide each year (Bosman). South Dakota is in the top ten states that have the most suicides every year. The most suicides occur with Whites, Native Americans, and Alaska Natives. In the Pine Ridge, it’s the Native Americans that suffer the most.
On October 3, we participated in the Out of the Darkness walk held at Wilson Park in Chadron, Nebraska. We walked three miles all around downtown. Participants brought homemade banners and signs to show their support for suicide victims and anyone considering suicide. During the walk, it was completely silent, almost as if we were all paying our own personal tribute to those we’ve lost to suicide. The suicide epidemic that is taking place on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is not only affecting the people of the reservation, but also the surrounding states as well. These suicides are taking the lives of the Native American youth. Suicide on the reservation is 150% more than the national average. From December to March of 2015, there were nine suicides by youths ages 12 to 24 on the reservation. Two teenagers hanged themselves in December, followed by seven more of the reservation’s youth during the next three months. There were also 103 unsuccessful attempts of suicide on the reservation during this time period as well. Emergency medical workers were often called to the scene of a suicide attempt at least a few times a day (Bosman).
Officials on the Pine Ridge, as well as the rest of the state, have tried to prevent people from talking to students about suicide, giving them lectures as well as setting up counseling services for those that need it. Since suicide specifically affects the youth the most, they’ve started talking to students as low as the second grade about this topic. No one should ever have to go through experiencing suicide, whether it be a family member or a close friend. To draw attention to how serious this issue is the walk “Through the Darkness” made people aware how this is happening everywhere and can be happening in their own towns.
Santana Janis was a young girl living on the reservation. She was a Lakota Indian and took her life just a few days before Christmas. She had a passion for riding horses and always had a smile on her face. Santana was an upbeat girl until more recent days when she showed signs of depression. She lived along with her grandfather, Earl Tall, and many siblings and cousins in a two-bedroom trailer. Her mother and most of her family were alcoholics. When Mr. Tall overheard her talking about suicide, he called Keith Janis, her other grandfather, and he immediately came over to talk about the situation. He made Santana promise that she would never do anything like that. With a smile, she just said,”O.K., Grandpa, O.K.” But after just six weeks, she was found in a building next to their trailer. Santana Janis had hung herself at the age of 12. Officials who looked into the case discovered that another female classmate had sent Santana a message on Facebook, urging her to kill herself shortly before the event actually took place(Bosman). (See Figure 1)
Alanie Martin, 14, who was known for her love of basketball, cheerleading and traditional Indian hand games, committed suicide on February 9th, 2015 by hanging. Family members and friends believe Alanie was driven to commit suicide because of bullying. She would not only get bullied in school, but on social media as well (“Indian Reservation Struggles”).
Thomas Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, mentioned in an interview that a worried parent came to him with a Facebook post that included nooses hanging from trees in the small community of Porcupine. They were apparently put up as an invitation for people to hang themselves, but were taken down by the authorities soon after it was brought to Poor Bear’s attention. Older teenagers seem to be encouraging the younger ones to take their own lives, saying that they can move on to another life afterward. Other reasons as to why these kids decide to take their lives are poverty, violence, bullying, alcohol-related problems, and even old folktales. It is believed that one suicide was brought upon by the influence of Slender Man, a tall, faceless man, who is often mentioned in stories, who stalks and kills whomever he is following. Last summer, two young girls attempted to kill their classmate, saying it was Slender Man who had influenced them to commit the crime. Even though this didn’t happen in the Great Plains it could happen and awareness needs to be brought to these types of situations. People on the reservation call him the Tall Man spirit. Apparently he’s been urging these kids to kill themselves, according to a minister on the reservation (Bosman).
Young people started to share videos all over Facebook, showing kids how to tie a noose or even leading to a specific place to hang themselves. A few months ago, a pastor who works with the youth who live on the reservation was hinted at a possible group suicide outside of Pine Ridge. When he arrived, he was thankful to find that no one had hung themselves from the line of nooses hanging from the trees. He gathered the teenagers that were there and sat down with them, praying and talking through to them. Their reasons for wanting to die were that they had no food, they had to live with intoxicated parents, and most were being either mentally or sexually abused at home(teacher that talked to us). Unfortunately, the two girls mentioned above are only a fraction of the true count of suicide victims with Native American youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation. There are only six mental health professionals on the reservation but they continue to encourage students to tell them if a friend or someone they know is contemplating suicide.
The Out of the Darkness walk that we went to brought awareness to the fact that suicide can affect anyone, and does affect most people in some shape or form. I wish that they had talked about the issue more. They didn’t talk but they did have colored beads that were coordinated according to if you had lost someone or if they had attempted suicide. We walked the 5k and then they provided us with snacks. Suicide affects a lot of people in the Great Plains and more attention needs to be drawn to it so people can get the help that they need. If we just ignore the problem it isn’t going to go away. This type of attention is just what the Great Plains needs. (See Figure 2)
Anytime that another suicide takes place, it always hits close to home, considering just how close the reservation is to where we are currently located. The Pine Ridge Reservation is a part of the Great Plains, meaning it is almost like home to us too. These suicides continue to affect that community to this day, the numbers still gradually rising. As communities of the Great Plains, it’s important that we provide support to anyone suffering from suicide, whether we like it or not. It not only affects those dealing with it; it affects every one of us.
Bosman, Julie. “Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Struggles With Suicides Among Its Young.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 3 May 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
“Indian Reservation Struggles With Teen Suicide Epidemic – RYOT News.” RYOT News. 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.