This time a 12 year old boy.
This is the note that the boy’s sponsor sent to One Spirit, the group I work for.
I am writing to ask ONESpirit Sponsors to please pray, each in the way of their own spiritual path, for my family at Pine Ridge Reservation. My heart is broken right now. The boy I have sponsored for about 5 years turned 12 a week ago. Yesterday he hung himself in the basement of his Grandmother’s home. No one knows why.He was wonderful with horses and was an amazing horseman.Ride Little Warrior, Ride. Ride like the Wind.Take those reservation ponies to places they have never been.Your big smile and the spark in your eye,I’ll think of them as I look to the sky.I feel you never knew.How many people loved you.Ride Little Warrior, Ride
It breaks my heart that a 12 year old boy would hang himself in his grandmother’s basement. How can you have so little hope for the future at the age of 12? Even when my father died when I was 12 years old, I did not consider suicide.
Yet children – especially teens – are committing suicide on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in numbers that even the Oglala Sioux Tribe calls an epidemic.
I know why these things happen – not the specific reasons for each individual suicide, but the reasons that are the fertile soil for such devastating events.
Poverty. It is extreme. Children go hungry. Mothers and grandmothers call One Spirit for food because the food stamps and money run out before the days of the month do. There are not enough places to live. People can’t afford a home. You can have 10 to 12 people or more living in one 3 bedroom house, sharing a single bathroom. The houses are substandard – no insulation, holes, mold – and there is no money for upkeep.
Alcoholism. The reservation is “dry” – alcohol possession and use is illegal. But that does not stop people from drinking. The small town of White Clay, NE (pop. about 14) is about 2 miles from the reservation border. Walking distance. It is more than 25 miles from anything else in Nebraska. Yet the 4 package stores sell an average of 4 million cans of beer a year. You read that right – 4 million. I used the word so you wouldn’t have to count zeros. The reservation has a population of about 50,000. The alcohol, in addition to the problems that addiction brings, also raises the rates of diabetes, fetal alcohol syndrome, liver disease and premature death.
Dysfunctional families. This is another repercussion of the alcohol issue. Parents, who are alcoholic, leave their children in the care of elderly grandparents so that they can go off to drink. Children start to drink early. Rates of domestic abuse are higher than any other population in the country. The poverty creates issues of theft within families – even the stealing of food to sell for alcohol money. You can imagine the ill will that results.
Education. Or perhaps I should say the lack of education. The drop out rate is over 50%. Teacher retention is difficult – keeping a good teacher in the middle of nowhere when you can’t afford to pay them what they can make elsewhere is nearly impossible. Besides, who is there to stress education or supervise homework? Who has the money for higher education? And what is there to study for? If a child goes on to higher education, he/she will have to leave home and family to find a job.
Jobs. Again, it would be more correct to say NO jobs. Unemployment on the reservation is about 80%. Think about that. 80%!! I realize that unemployment rates are higher than usual everywhere in this country right now. But that 80% rate is the NORM on the rez. You can’t work when there are no jobs to work at. You can’t work when you have no transportation to travel the 50 miles to the nearest job.
We ought to be ashamed of ourselves as a nation. We stole the land from the original owners. We corralled them on reservations, giving them the most useless land. We pamper and spoil our children, giving them their own credit cards and every thing they ask for, while there are children who are hungry, who have to beg for clothes that fit as they grow and who have to sleep on the floor.
We ought to be ashamed! We ought to do something to help the tribe come up with solutions to the problems. Teach them to fish, don’t just give them the government leftovers. If we can do this for countries in other parts of the world, we sure as hell can do it here!
How many more youth suicides will it take before someone listens???