Mary Pember: New allies in battle against Indian youth suicide

Volunteers and children come together to learn and heal at a healing camp on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo by Cindy Giago

Mary Annette Pember reports on efforts to address youth suicide within the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota:
Desperate to stem the recent spate of youth suicides in their community, citizens of Pine Ridge reservation have turned to an unlikely ally, crowdfunding.

Frustrated with the often burdensome reporting and management demands of federal mental health funding, the Tiospaye Sakowin Woonspe na Woapiye O’Tipi, Seven Extended Families Education and Healing Center have created a grassroots, spiritually and culturally based Lakota healing camps for at-risk young people. The crowd- and private-funded model frees the volunteer organization from adhering to mainstream mental health intervention demands that such work fit into the typical western scientific framework of evidence based practices and measurable outcomes.

In the Lakota worldview, incorporating healing of the spirit is essential to healing the mind and body. “People are spiritual beings; we (Lakota) don’t question that,” says Cindy Giago, program manager for the Healing Center in Porcupine, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge reservation. “Federal funding agencies want proof that our interventions work in the form of science and logic. But how do you measure spirituality?”

“Empirically-based science leaves no room for the cultural context that is crucial to the success of a treatment approach within tribal communities,” adds Holly Echo-hawk of the Pawnee Nation. She is founder of Echo-Hawk and Associates, an organizational behavior and management consulting company specializing in children’s mental health.

Therein lies the longstanding disconnect between the Native world-view and that of the Western, science-based perspective, a disconnect that hampers the success of government-sponsored mental health interventions in Indian country.

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Lakota Fight Suicide Spirit with Crowdfunding (Indian Country Today 5/19)

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