Jan 7, 2014 - It’s Time to Step Up Efforts on Suicide Prevention, by Brandon Ecoffey


With the onset of a new Gregorian calendar that serves for us Lakota as the halfway mark in our year and a reminder that Sundance is quickly approaching, it is time for all of us in the Native “establishment” to prioritize the issues that are most important to the people. Although this is the Colonizer’s new-year, it is also an opportunity to refocus our efforts on preventing suicide on reservations across the country.

Amongst the columnists that provide commentary on tribal government, I admit, I am probably the least critical of my own tribal council in Pine Ridge. I know many of them personally; some coached me, I coached some of their kids, some I’ve prayed with, and I’ve spent time in the homes of others while I was growing up. That is the nature of growing up on the rez. We all know each other. The ones in public office that I know are there with good intentions. With that in mind, I am sending out a plea for help and a call to action to Tribal councils and Indian organizations across the country: it is time to step up efforts and do their part in helping save our children.

As a reservation reared individual I do not know a world that is absent of suicide. The immense sadness that we share in our community when we hear of both relatives and strangers taking their own life is as fresh and poignant this week as were the ones I first experienced as a child. It isn’t something that one grows numb to, and every time all we are left with is one word: why? I do not want my community or any other community to continue having this experience over and over again. When does this stop?

NCAI, I speak for many when I say we do not care what Dan Snyder is doing in Washington, DC when young girls are killing themselves in Kyle, SD. NIEA, it is time to refocus. The political infighting I saw with my own eyes at the national conference in Rapid City doesn’t bring back the ones I love who decided that they no longer had the desire to live this human life. As organizations it is time for both to ask themselves, where are we in this fight?

Tribal councils, these are our children that are dying. For these other organizations located in D.C., California or wherever, and for the non-Native politicians- our hurt isn’t felt by them. Their designer shoes are not sullied from scraping that last bit of dirt on to our children’s coffins. They are not there in the ceremonies when we cry together as we say goodbye for the last time. It is up to you to push this issue and say enough is enough. We need help. We need resources. We need professionals. We need to empower and embrace our prayer circles, and we need our tribal governments’ leadership to tell the rest of the world that we are humble enough to accept help on this issue.

The Black Hills issue is huge but a proposed draft resolution that never made it out of committee is much ado about nothing. It, is like many others, arose because of lack of focus. The continued suspension and reinstatement of council members is a distraction from the immediate and important issues that are not going away. The day the council was fighting over the reinstatement of 5 of their own, a young girl took her life. Set those things aside for a bit and create legislation that bolsters our own suicide prevention programs- one that unites our allies who will fight this battle with us.

For the Native media, our priorities have been ass-backwards. Many in the Native media establishment are not doing this work to help the people. Many are in this for Twitter followers, hits on their website, book sales, and the bottom line. It is easy for me to see you because I was you at one point in life. When you produce content ask yourselves, who am I doing this for? If it isn’t for the people, the Grandmas and Grandpas who are cold and have nothing to eat, or the children who are thinking, right now, about ending their life- then get to stepping. You are in our way.

This is a war that is bigger than any of our own personal agendas. This endeavor will require each of us to set aside the personal and political differences that we all know too well in Indian Country.  There is a common enemy that wants your child, wants my nieces and nephews, and who smiles when we are fighting with each other. We can only stop suicide if we are united, we can fight with each other later, let us fight this battle today and together -for our children.

Brandon is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a lifelong resident of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who earned his education at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. He is currently the managing editor of Native Sun News Weekly, the current events and life editor at Native Max Magazine and a contributor to LastRealIndians.com and can be followed on Twitter @BEcoffeynswkly


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