Nov 3, 2014 - What matters… My way of coping with suicide by Jayson Brave Heart

Its been almost two months since we as a family put my nephew in the ground. Its been two long months to think about what happened, what changed, and what matters.

“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow. “ -Dreams by Langston Hughes

I first heard these words spoken by my father Don Standing Elk at the Red Shirt Table Elementary eighth grade graduation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I listened intently as he talked about each one of these words and felt them soak up into my brain, and into my soul. I listen to, and felt them become a big part of who I have become today. As an entrepreneur, father, sun dancer, pipe carrier, leader, and Lakota man these words shaped me.

Some people I’ve crossed paths with off the reservation consider me to be an oddity compared to my peers on the Pine Ride Reservation. So much so people ask me all the time “What did you do to make it off the reservation and be successful”. In their eyes success is Judged by the ability to talk, walk, think, hold an intellectual conversation, and sleep away from mommy outside the reservation boundaries. I usually come up with “an intellectual point of taking hold of key points in my life that are considered life changing examples of courage to make a decision” – but the real answer is I HELD FAST TO MY DREAMS.

I knew at a young age I wanted something different and better than what I saw around me. I wanted to be the kid that would change my families’ life for the better and raise myself out of the poverty surrounding me. I was fortunate to have great mentors and life changing moments. Meeting Vine Deloria at a conference in high school; having Billy Mills in different points in my life to tell me he’s proud of me; AISES teachers and scholars pushing me to be better; learning from my great grandmother how to “watch my step” before I got on the bus to school; my older brothers and sisters showing me that hard work pays off. My aunt took me in at 6 days old and became my mother – a woman who showed me love, integrity, and was always a parent and not a friend. Other moments like having Dennis Banks tell me that I’m going to be the future of success in Indian Country and simple affirmations like being told that I’m smart by Russell Means have influenced me. All these moments and affirmations stay close to heart, move me and always helped me want to take that step forward, even though I knew it would probably be a rough road ahead of me.

As part of my work, I have committed myself to sharing my story, especially with youth. One of the things that I have shared about success is that we need to is take life as it’s given to you and that every day when they wake up to make a decision and a conscious effort to be amazing. Young people only have few worries unlike us adults. They get to worry about being a youth and doing what a youth does. Live life by learning from mistakes and make mistakes cause we have a whole life to make ourselves better.

I’ve traveled all over the United States to different Native communities and view my thoughts on life, business, and everything somewhere in-between. I was on ABC 20/20 Hidden America series “Children of the Plains” as a result of being somewhat of a success story. I carried some hope and dreams in all my dealings through out Indian Country
But I never thought about what was going on my reservation like the Ebola Epidemic would hit me and my family…

“The Word”

Now it hit my extended family hard and those instances rocked me hard. Brothers and Sisters (Lakota Way) were losing family members. They were losing children, nephews, cousins, brothers, sisters, close family members to this Word. But I never really thought it would hit us as a family. I was naive to think this way and to think we as a family were far from the Word. But truth be told I went through a dark time in 2006 and I thought I was going to commit “The WORD’ and give up, because I was in a very dark place.

Then in December 2013 and again in September 2014 I got a call from my sister. “(Blank) killed himself!!!” Words that struck me down to my core and made me cry for hours. Made me go into a state of panic and shock. My thoughts first were “What Happened?” “What Changed?” and “What Matters?”

What Happened:

My first Cousin/Little Brother hung himself for reasons I’ll never know. He will always live in my heart as a smart guy who made me give up video games cause he kicked all of our butts at them. An artist and father who may have had issues with alcohol but he was always there for his brothers and sisters. A Lakota man who understood the sacred pipe and what energy it held. “Jesse James” didn’t have to go early but he did. I’ll cherish our childhood and use his energy to help people with dealing with “the Word”.

My Lil Nephew shot himself for reasons again we don’t really know or understand. He too will live in my heart as a good kid and father that made us all laugh, another artist that loved tattoos and creating real images to bring his personality out in front of your face to show you who he was. Wild Oglala was a term that her used to describe himself and his friends. I can say from first hand knowledge these kids carry a passion for the people and desire to be different and better. Alex we miss you and love you. “The Word” didn’t take you away. It made us closer, stronger, and ready to help others in this dark place “the word’ takes all of us.

What Changed:

My idea on how we as Native people should look at “the Word” and factors that create these darks places that our youth are being led to. My brother Gyasi Ross called me a couple days after we buried my nephew. His call made me feel better and even a little empowered and for that I love him. His words also of taking this “Word” and being open about it, sharing our stories, talking about it, living with it and being apart of the healing process rather then putting it away. He had written a five part series on it with Chelsey Luger titled “Suicide Chronicles” which was published on Indian Country Today Media Network ( I recommend to everyone to read and share. But over that last couple months I’ve seen things that I want people to think about and consider in their everyday lives. All day everyday I’m updating to social media sites and having fun doing so. I get a kick out of pushing the envelope and saying what other think but not say or just plain be a little crazy and crude to make a person chuckle. I get messages from people from all walks of life. Native and non Native who look at my page just to get a laugh and that makes me feel good and drives me more to be funnier or just say it whatever it may be.

Social Media gives us access to people’s lives like never before. It takes a small rural population and gives it voice to be heard on an international scale. It gives us an outlet to reach out and show the world who we are and what we are about. Growing up I never knew what was going on in my parents’ personal lives. I think back and thank god I wasn’t privy to all the craziness that they might have gone through. But do we think about our kids when we post? Do we think about what our child’s friends and parents read from our posts? Do we consider the mental anguish we cause by talking bad about each other on the internet. Do we confuse venting out with over sharing? Are we numb to the idea that our children read these publications by our parents, peers, leaders, and loved ones as a direct attack on their daily life, soul, and future dreams? Are we as a social media crazy society, crushing the same dreams I grew up thinking and feeling from a simple Langston Hughes poem?

We need to change our idea on how we show our own personal world. Learn to keep our kids world their own and let them think. Make choices and fight their own battles. Be Parents, Big Brothers, Big sisters, Aunties, Uncles, grandmas, and Grandpas. But most important be the role God gave you, the most important being that of a parent. be those roles and those roles only. We grew up with friends and I never needed my parents to be my friend. I always needed them to be my parents.

What Matters:

The Idea of losing contact with family for periods of time scares the hell out of me. My Family matter more then ever today and at this moment while I type away, I cry cause I miss them and only want better for them. The thought of how I need to be a better teacher and student. Life always brings you lessons and how you take those lessons are going to add to your success. The ability to share my hurt matters so I can teach others how to cope and deal with this “Word”.

SUICIDE is the word and hurts, but it’s only a word as it sits in front of you. What matters is how you convey your thought and feelings about suicide. Without the discussion Suicide will continue to scare us, like a ghost story told by an uncle around the fire. Lets give a chance to our youth to “Hold Fast to Their Dreams”.
Take charge of the word Suicide and make it a conversation so your loved one know you LOVE THEM…..

Its that Simple

Write That Down

by Jayson Brave Heart

Last Real Indians