Mar 22, 2013 - Stopping the Pipeline of Pain: the Child Welfare System, Prison, Suicide -Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle

Stopping the Pipeline of Pain: the Child Welfare System, Prison, and Suicide.

By Sara Jumping Eagle

What do we do? Our very future is at risk, hanging in the balance, hanging by a rope, literally, metaphorically.  What do we do? In the work I do, as a pediatrician, an adolescent medicine specialist, I see so many youth who have already been traumatized, by the age of 13 years old.  They have seen too much, been through too much, and why? Their parents and grandparents (if they have them) have been through too much.  It is all connected.  So these young people also learn early on that they are the problem; they learn they have a problem – there must be something wrong with them.  They aren’t acting “normal” so they must be fixed.  In reality, these young people are merely reacting to situations that are hurting them – whether they are being ignored in a family where the chaos of substance abuse reigns, whether they are the caretaker for other children when their parents are addicted to alcohol or methamphetamines, or whether they are being abused. Oftentimes, the parents are dealing with traumas of their own that have never been addressed thus resulting in mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and post- traumatic stress disorder.  Unresolved, many people turn to substances to deal with this pain.

The systems that exist step in, to “fix” things – whether that istaking them out of the home, sending them to treatment, to boarding schools, to youth correctional centers or juvenile justice systems, psychiatric units, foster homes, or group homes.  Our youth learn early on that because they have a problem they must be sent somewhere, so then they learn to be institutionalized, they are labeled “troubled” and “at risk”.  So the pipeline begins.

Our young people are also taught early on by these systems and oftentimes, unfortunately, by parents with substance abuse problems, that there is a pill for every problem.  At times I have seen some excellent counselors and advocates use methods which employ teaching problem solving skills, family therapy, and cognitive based therapy to improve the lives of our youth – yet unfortunately, this seems to not always be the case.  There are some mental health issues wherein treatment using certain medications is recommended, such as schizophrenia, or chronic severe depression, or severe anxiety.  Other treatment methods such as cognitive based therapy, prayer, meditation, biofeedback, and exercise have been successful in the treatment of less severe mood disorders and anxiety.  Yet often times these other methods are not used or promoted or taught to our young people as coping skills in dealing with anxiety, nightmares, or the urge to cut themselves.

After a certain period of time, young people are returned to the same exact situation they left – most of the time without the benefit of family therapy. Most of the time, the parents or guardians who may also need help, never receive it. There are minimal resources in our overwhelmed rural reservation communities for follow up mental health care.  There arenumerous resources in our communities for spiritual and family based care if we could design ways of improving family referrals at a community level.

We must stop doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!! Isn’t that called INSANITY?

How can our young ones be cared for and have their mental health, emotional health, and spiritual health cared for in isolation of their families? These are intertwined!

For our American Indian children and youth, we must determine a way to stop the pipeline to prison, suicide, and motor vehicle accidents.  We must be creative in determining the best ways for our Nations to address the inherited colonized cycle of substance abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and mental health issues that are affecting our communities and resulting in the higherrates of suicide, drug/alcohol exposed infants, and child neglect.

We are living in a world of pain, the legacy of colonialism, the results of boarding schools, institutionalized rape/sexual molestation/physical and emotional abuse, and terror advocated by the United States government that aimed to eradicate our spirituality.  Yet, our children’s lives, our future, our wakanyeja,are teetering on the edge, the precipice of a vast unknown.

Yet, our spirits are not broken.

We are also living in a world of strength.  We will fight to take our children back from the pipeline to prison, the foster care system, and to teach them their L/Dakota ways, language, ceremony! We must determine to be better leaders, community members, and parents. We must decide to be the parents wewished we had. We must decide to be the parents our communities, our tiospayes had, before these colonizing institutions were begun to destroy our ways. We must decide that the next generation WILL LIVE IN A RED DAY! AnpetuLuta Otipi!  The mainstay in these solutions is restoring families, extended family support systems, and community level activism and spirituality.

Start something in your community, something small.  Start with a group of kids; start teaching them a skill that you know – how to draw? How to play guitar? How to hunt, sew, bead? Sing!  Look for that teen that is struggling; take them with you to aninipi (a sweat ceremony) or to church.  It can start with a trip to the mall or going to a conference that highlights role models.  Make a point of asking them how they are doing? Start a conversation with them on facebook.  When you are spending time with young people, shooting around a basketball, that is when they might ask you about life, or you might tell them about things you went through, how you made it.  They need to know we care.

They need something to look forward to.

We all need help sometimes… Our young people need help all the time, whether they ask for it or not, and whether they like it or not.  Hecetu Ye.

Last Real Indians