Saturday, March 26, 2005

Reservation Suicides

While driving nine hundred miles home, from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the middle of a snow storm, I was trying to make some kind of sense of the mind boggling number of violent deaths that are occurring on our Indian reservations. News had just come in about the school shooting on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota. What would possess a fourteen year old boy to kill his grand parents, a teacher, a security guard, five fellow students, and then to turn the gun on himself and take his own life? I spent the night in Poplar Montana, tribal headquarters for the Fort Peck Indian Rez, with my inlaws. My sister inlaw who works as a jailer reported to us that they had booked eleven people into jail that night. The majority of incarcerating on the reservations are drug, alcohol, and violence related. The next day I continued my journey through the snow storm, watched a speeding van hit the ditch on the Fort Belknap rez, and finally had to hold up because of the storm in Browning on the Blackfeet Rez. I spent the night at my sons house. A few people stopped by to visit and shared some shocking statistics from a public health forum they had attended that day. On the Blackfeet rez in the last three years there have been nine hundred plus suicide attempts and over sixty successful. From 1998 to 2002 on the Standing Rock rez there has been over six hundred attempts and two hundred twenty four successful. On New Years night 2004 on the Standing Rock there were six attempts. For the four year period Standing Rock had the highest teen suicide rate per capita in the USA. That's not all, while on Standing Rock a friend came to visit and shared shocking news from the Fort Thompson rez in South Dakota. Fort Thompson has now taken over as the suicide capital of the US. Reports are now coming in that the Alaska natives and Eskimos are taking their own lives in shocking numbers. What is going on? To give a little perspective, since the beginning of the Desert Storm there have been fifteen hundred American soldiers killed. That is about the same number of Indians that have been killing themselves or each other in the same time period. Nobody seems to care if an Indian blows himself away, but we rise up in protest when one American soldier is killed. Maybe its because, since we haven't been able to assimilate the Indians into the larger culture we will just let them blow themselves away. The federal government has sent in teams of experts without much success, tribal governments are ineffective, no one seems to be offering a solution that is more powerful than just turning out the lights. In my first article, "NO MORE MULLAHS", I spoke about empowering. The idea of empowering is to invigorate, to enable someone to succeed. But the opposite of empowering is to weaken, to disable, impotence, ineptitude, incapacitate. I think the latter describes the Native American reservation experience. What I see is a people who have been stripped of their identity. Author, Kent Nerberg described it best in his book "Neither Wolf nor Dog". Nerberg illustrates the life of a people who are walking the edge of the dominant culture and desperately trying to cling to the old ways that are slipping away. In observing the reservation youth I see our young people imitating gang bangers, MTV culture, Goths, the drug culture, rappers, and more or less the culture of death. The values of past generations, and the identity of Native cultures has lost it's impact on the youth. Our reservation fathers and mentors are lost in a perpetual state of adolescence and offer no positive direction. So what am I trying to say? Its time to wake up. We have a real problem and the sugar coated solutions of the past are not working. We need a revolution of ideas. We need to break out of the mold and we need to be empowered.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Reservation Suicides"

When you take a people and you give them everything. Keep them just content enough for three or four generations and then slowly take everything away, you create a landslide of hopelessness.
The hand that has promised to give us housing built us enough to homes to have three families per house hold and now has quit building more. They say we want you to start building your own, but the banker says you need to own land to do it. The land belongs to the tribe and not the individual.
They pull away their money from things like Bureau of Indian Afairs who were one of the biggest employers on the Reservations. The unemployment rates went from 50% to 70%.
We wanted indian people to create their own jobs, but the banker needs to have some "guarentee" for the business loan and the land belongs to the tribe.
The hand that said they would feed us begins to slowly take away "food stamps" and assistance to the poor.
We don't want people to become totally dependent on government assistance.
The banker wants "collateral" for the business loan but the tribe owns the land.
The one who promised to take care of our health needs can only fly you to the big hospital for treatment under the "life or limb policy." That means they can only treat you if you are in life threatening situations or without treatment you may loose a limb. It's better then nothing.
Their is a great sense of hopeless ness among the young people because there are no jobs and the "benefits" (really?) of their fathers are no longer an option. The government wants us to find our own way out and young people are finding that way.
You want knew ideas?
Let the individual take the land and own the land so we can go to a bank and say, "we have collateral" and don't let them turn us down. If America wants Native America to become self sufficient we need a radical shot of resources to build our reservation into economically sound communities. The way it is now we have nothing and with nothing it is hard to move into todays society, todays economy.