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Oglala Brothers Creating Positive Change in Pine Ridge

Nate and Darrell Brown Bull made it out of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a place that regularly sits in the national spotlight for its poverty and high suicide rates. But both men are extremely proud of where they grew up, and proud that they were able to go beyond its boundaries, both physical and psychological.

For Nate, it took athletic talent on the basketball court to earn what he says was one of the first Division I scholarships for a male hooper. For Darrell, better known as Tiger, it took confidence and perseverance to obtain his master’s in tribal government and administration and begin law school at Michigan State University.

The two share a goal of changing what they call a negative perception in Pine Ridge.

“There’s a lot of good that goes on there that people don’t see,” Nate says.

Tiger hopes to rid the reservation of a “you can’t succeed” mentality he says is a likely factor in the suicide rates. “Even our own people have that mentality.”

Nate, a 7'1" center who played four games at Florida International University this season before getting hurt, finds himself fighting the urge to come home. “I want to show all the others at home that playing Division I basketball is possible and that it can be done,” he says.

The 6’8” Tiger, one of the youngest-ever executive directors for the Tribe (at age 30), is channeling suicide prevention funding from eight programs to attack the issue more effectively. He believes his generation was failed by older generations, “because every time we lose a child here on the reservation to suicide, hunger, we all fail as older generations.”

About a year into Tiger’s job as the Oglala Lakota’s executive director, nine suicides had been reported in six months, along with several attempts. As he scrambled with his gameplan, he noticed his brother’s success on the basketball court was instilling a sense of pride in the tribal community.

“What [Nate] did is bring hope in another way to our people with his leadership and that team making it to the state tournament our whole reservation was supporting that school,” Tiger says. Nate notched a triple-double (28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks) in his final game, where he helped the team earn fourth place.

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Though the larger brother garnered individual awards through his playing career, including All-State honors, Tiger has also been recognized for his efforts. The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development named him to their annual 40 under 40 list in 2015. “Being in this position is to show others my age it’s possible. We can step in now and run our nations and make changes that we need to and have a vision for ourselves, because it’s time for that to happen.

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Tiger manages 74 tribal programs and 887 employees, he says, and is confident about the changes he’s made within the Oglala Sioux regarding suicides. “We’ve [now] identified where we can address this in a long-term sense,” he says.


Follow ICTMN’s Cary Rosenbaum on Twitter: @CaryRosenbaum