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Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux youth step up to address suicide

The following story was written and reported by Richie Richards, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

From left to right Taylor Christensen, Frances Sierra, Shirley Spider, Allyssa Comer, and James Chief are Teen Mentors happy to help those in need. Photo by Richie Richards

Stepping up for suicide prevention
Little Wound students become active in community
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

KYLE –– The loss of a child’s life in any community is devastating, but when it is the loss of five young lives in the span of a few months by means of suicide it becomes tragic.

Pine Ridge is a reservation where nearly everyone is related to the victims and the pain is felt by all. The Oglala Sioux Tribe recently declared a state of emergency and several organizations are mobilizing to bring awareness and prevention to the forefront of tribal needs. This isn’t the first time this has happened.

In response to the suicides and other social needs, the Peer Mentoring Group at the Little Wound High School formed with 11 students led by School Counselor Lisa White Bull who challenged these young leaders to become active in community service. They chose suicide prevention as their way of giving to others.

Native Sun News interviewed 5 students who volunteer as Peer Mentors at Little Wound. During the discussion, the students shared their views on suicide and their work towards prevention.

When asked to define suicide, the teens all agree it is the taking of one’s own life and that conditions on the reservation play a major role; alcoholism, drugs, poverty, bullying, parental absence and cultural isolation.

Senior James Chief, 18, recently featured on the Rapid City Fox television station KEVN as a “Rising Star” finalist, says, “I feel that a lot of the suicides in our youth today stem from problems they have at home; problems such as abusive parents/guardians or poor living conditions. As a result, when a child is depressed, or bullied, they don’t come home to a place where they feel safe or loved. They come home to a place where their problems only persist, or worsen.”

Adding to that, Senior Frances Sierra, 18, a football cheerleader and One Act Play crew member, says, “Our minds are our biggest fear. We try to change ourselves to fit in the mold of the world. Sometimes, we get tired of fighting and we have nothing to fight for. I think as a teen, we try to be the perfect symbol, but it is hard when we get put down. It doesn’t help that our parents think that we can’t live up to their expectations.”

All five of the Teen Mentors knew a friend or relative who has attempted suicide and survived recently. Each one of them shared a story of survival and had very little emotional attachment to their recollections of the near-losses of life.

The amount of suicide attempts in their circles have made them partially desensitized; withdrawing from them feelings may be a coping mechanism for their own self-preservation.

Sophomore Taylor Christensen, 15, a Little Wound girls’ basketball player who loves to rodeo, shared her personal connection to friends who nearly took their own life, saying, “Yes, I do know a few people/friends that have survived a suicide attempt. Once I heard, I felt as if my heart sunk to my stomach each time. I don’t like seeing others sad, or myself. Some make relationships a priority too young. And some just need attention and are crying for pity. Everyone needs some sort of push to keep going.”

Senior Shirley Spider, 18, is a cheerleader active in Oral Interpretation and One Act Play manager, “I have known many people who have tried to commit suicide. Just last week one of my summer friends tried to commit suicide. I don’t want to say that he failed, but he didn’t die; which I am very thankful for. But no one knew he was suffering. Suicide is not a joke and most people know that around here. So we don’t joke about it.”

These youth leaders have taken the suicide epidemic on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation as a personal life endeavor to save lives and prevent the younger generations from feeling isolated. They have volunteered for a Family Fun Night at school and worked with the National Relief Charity to provide gifts to families attending.

On Suicide Prevention Day, the Teen Mentors made and pinned yellow ribbons (symbol for suicide awareness) on Little Wound students and baked over 300 cookies to share and show their support for the cause and let others know they care.

To their role as Teen Mentors, they all see themselves as a friend to anyone in need. They shared their goals with Native Sun News.

Senior Allyssa Comer, 18, says, “My goal is to actually get out there and legitimately talk to students who suffer from suicidal thoughts, and to show them that remaining strong can be good for someone I don’t even know.”

Christensen adds, “As peer mentors, we want to help our youth and anyone who needs it. I remember when I lost my cousin to suicide a few years ago and how hard it was and still is; how much I wondered if she was safe every single day. I don’t ever want people to feel what we felt when that happened. There is so much hurt lately and we’re here to help.”

Native Sun News asked these role models what they would like to say to their families, friends, communities, and to anyone who may be thinking about suicide.

Sierra shared, “I would like to say hang in there. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. We got to learn from our mistakes.” To the adults, “Care for your children instead of thinking when you’re getting your next drop of alcohol. Love yourself.”

Chief, the Student Council President, says, “To anyone who is depressed and may be thinking about suicide- you’re not alone. There is hope! You have friends and family that love you and are there for you; all you have to do is speak up! No one should ever feel alone.”

Spider in speaking to her community added, “We need to get our lives together. We need to stop doing all the bad things and blaming it on being Native American. To the ones who are trying to do the good things, I salute you. I understand you. I am you.” She wanted anyone who may be suicidal to know, “I know going to people is hard. But believe me, it helps. Please go to someone because your life is valued and you are loved.”

Comer closes with these sage words, “We will never really know why the people who decided this was the only way out. We do know that we can help prevent the next attempt. Take away all the negative and think only positive thoughts. Suicide is available, but we can fight to make our goals together. If you believe you can make it another day, you will. Problems only last for a while. Let it pass.”

The Little Wound High School Peer Mentoring group are working to make a difference in their community. They are soon going to be receiving training from the Sweet Grass Suicide Prevention Program about suicide awareness.

They will utilize their training to identify the signs from within the school system. This firsthand knowledge and personal interaction with those teens deep in emotional contemplation of death are needed for whistle blowing and peer support.

Often times, these peers speak a language to each other to which many adults are unaware of or do not recognize.

The Little Wound High School Peer Mentoring group are on the frontlines in the battle to prevent the loss of life to teen suicide on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The next layer of defense comes from the tribal health care facilities receiving federal funds like the Sweet Grass Suicide Prevention Program and the Mental Health Services through the Indian Health Services.

(Contact Richie Richards at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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