Ivan Star: Oglala Sioux Tribe suffers with suicide among youth

The following is the opinion of Ivan F. Star Comes Out. All content © Native Sun News.

Ivan F. Star Comes Out

Teen suicides means something is terribly wrong on our homeland
By Ivan F. Star Comes Out

The recent homeland suicides among our youth have been foremost in my thoughts. Wanting to know more, I went to a gathering last week in Pine Ridge to listen and attain a clearer understanding. It appears this phenomenon has been occurring all along. I remember other reservations having to deal with this very same situation.

I extend my condolences to the surviving mothers and fathers and of course the siblings. The loss of a loved one is hard enough to deal with. The difficulties of dealing with a loss such as you are now enduring is elevated to another level. I pray you find some semblance of comfort in your grief and that you do not cope alone.

Truthfully, I cannot find words to express my feelings. Like everyone else in this place, I and my significant other endured the loss of a child in 2005. We took an abandoned 18-day old infant in the 1980s and raised her as one of our own. We lost her in an alcohol-related car crash nearly 10 years ago. The memories we have of her are still very vivid.

Just as one of my elders (now deceased) did for me, I share with all of you one of our ancestor’s oral teachings. Our ancestors dealt with death in a most profound manner. They knew every person is destined to walk in balance between destitution and prosperity, right and wrong, good and bad, sadness and happiness, life and death. They knew death is part of our presence here on earth.

They held four situations as the most difficult to deal with. They knew every living soul will encounter one or more of these events throughout their lives. Of these four, the least difficult was to be completely surrounded by an enemy. The next one was to be caught totally unprepared for a cold winter. The other two difficulties involve the death of a first born child and losing a mother.

When I first heard this, being naïvely young, I argued that the most difficult is to be surrounded by an enemy. With his clarification, the elderly man opened my eyes. He agreed that it is difficult to be surrounded by an enemy but pointed out that one can do something about it, like fight or run. One can also struggle to survive a severe winter.

However, with the loss of a family member, there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to ease the pain. He explained that our only option is to accept the loss as quickly as humanly possible. This means to realize that the death happened. If a person does not accept within a reasonable time, then one risks being permanently engulfed with the loss.

Shortly after that, I realized the purpose of the Wicanagi Gluhapi (Keeping of the Soul, which is linked to the Releasing of the Soul). I believe the old way required a reasonable time frame for mourning in order for the tiwahe (family) and tiospaye (extended family group) to remain functional and continue living. This has changed to a memorial dinner, giveaway, and services one year after such loss.

There are a number of Lakota songs that speak to the fact that prayer is the only thing we have to help us find our way in times of dire need. I encourage the surviving families to seek the guidance of a Wakan Iyeska (Spiritual Interpreter). I hope you find some semblance of strength and direction from this.

Next, I share a small bit of what I learned regarding another of our seven sacred rites called Tapa Wankayeyapi (Tossing of the Ball). The ball is symbolic of the buffalo’s persona (strength and endurance) and of knowledge and Wakan Tanka (Great Essence). Catching it represented accomplishment of one’s struggle to gain freedom from ignorance in which we are constantly submerged.

Lastly, on a more contemporary level, my next discussion is derived from personal experiences in dealing with alcoholism and post-traumatic stress. I know there are those who may be somewhat chagrined, especially those formally educated in this field. I ask for your understanding. Not being professionally qualified and I would not conduct therapy sessions.

Instead, I look at life here on the homeland and see that something is terribly awry, not only among our youth, but with the entire adult population. I think about our ancestors and realize that they had more to offer us than we have been led to believe.

Contrary to these standing popular “Indian” stereotypes, I sincerely believe our ancestors were a contented lot with a solid sense of peacefulness. Based on my understanding of ceremonies I am able to see that our people enjoyed an unabridged positivity and were optimistic and confident. In essence, this enabled them to deal ably and appropriately with family losses.

People had strong expectations and beliefs which induced a significant degree of enthusiasm and interest in life. Their single indigenous worldview provided them with a passion or appetite for life that further fed their appreciation for knowledge and art. They enjoyed a freedom that enabled them to love themselves and others and were genuinely happy.

Then a particularly traumatic upheaval of life occurred with the arrival of the destructively hostile newcomer to this continent. That centuries-old indigenous psyche was attacked and nearly obliterated. Everything they had, including the land, their language, culture, and the nuclear family unit, all of which were central to the above described setting, was calculatedly torn apart, shattered, and discarded.

Collectively, our people gradually descended into despair. Within a century (or more), through several generations, the Lakota became cynical, apathetic, and distrusted authority, such as government and each other. Centuries of freedom was replaced with a pseudo-life. For example, they were denied equal schooling and had to ask for permission to leave their homeland and were basically hand-fed.

I am not an expert but I know enough to acknowledge and respect the invisible but powerful feelings of worthlessness, fear, depression, and hopelessness. These emotional disorders and can lead to suicide. Again, prayer is the only thing we have to help us cope with the unfathomable.

(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764; (605) 867-2448; mato_nasula2@outlook.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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