Joe Flood writes in The New York Times article, "What's Lurking Behind the Suicides," that the issue of youth suicide is related to multi-generational sexual abuse that stems from abuse within Indian boarding schools. Flood goes onto say that the news media, and tribal members have not yet covered this issue with the overt comprehension that sexual abuse is linked to the tragedy of suicide among our youth. Needless to say, this is more than a journalistic oversight considering that Indian Country Today has encouraged Native voices and allies to cover this issue for years.
One would think a white man living on Pine Ridge, teaching on the reservation, would be savvy enough to see that the issue has been covered by the Indian media many times over for several years. What's disappointing is that many scholars, academics, and non-Natives have been sharing this article, while they have failed to acknowledge Indian voices lending their direct experience to the issue of youth suicide.
It's heartening to see people outside of our communities care about an issue that has plagued us, but I wonder why The New York Times gives more credence to a Non-Native than it would give to a voice who is either Native or has been a Native ally in the media for years.
Stephanie Woodard, with the support of this website and the Fund for Investigative Journalism, wrote an entire series on preventing Native suicide. She didn't frame the issue of youth suicide as a downtrodden tale of authorities and tribal members not taking full accountability and action to prevent these tragedies, rather she showcased the activism Native youth were taking on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Woodard writes, “...youngsters perform skits they hope will lower their tribe’s youth-suicide rate.” Woodard also shares that Gila River community encourages youth to play with mustangs to prevent self-harm. She also quotes the articulate youth involved in activism through the arts, who discuss how much their work means to them. It is this type of coverage that would show Natives taking full accountability and action to protect their youth. Not to mention, Woodard wrote directly about the issue of Indian boarding schools and suicide among youth in her article, published in 2011, 'South Dakota Boarding School Survivors Detail Sexual Abuse.' In this article Howard Wanna, an Indian boarding school survivor, states, “… we just had three suicides, all youngsters in their 20s, and this happens frequently. Why? It’s the result of how we elders were treated as children—an effect that continues through the generations.”
Three months ago, Alysa Landry wrote in her article for ICTMN, “Five suicides in the past two months have shaken the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” She discusses bullying as an issue affecting youth and quotes the director of the tribe's Sweet Grass Suicide Prevention Project, stating, “'We’re working with families of those who completed suicide, or those who have attempted, or those who are exhibiting ideation. At this point, we’re responding very aggressively.'” Landry goes on to give voice to an outreach coordinator, a Native youth, and a chief division council for the FBI on the issue. She closes her in-depth coverage with a number to a suicide prevention hotline.
When Flood states in his article that tribal members rarely discuss the issue of sexual abuse and suicide above a whisper, I wonder if he has read any of these articles featuring Native voices? I wonder if he read Lynn Armitage's article for Indian Country Today, which featured Twila True, founder of the True Sioux Hope Foundation, who is working avidly to create permanent and positive change on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation? These articles aren't a blip or a whisper for Indian Country.
The New York Times has millions of readers who could greatly benefit from reading the voices on Indian Country Today. We are not whispering; We are demanding action. Not only are we discussing sexual abuse within our communities, but we're calling attention to systemic racism and how that affects our youth. We're discussing our first-hand experiences with generational injustice and how that affects our grandmothers and grandfathers. We're also connecting youth to suicide prevention hotlines, linking readers to organizations they can donate to, and giving voice to the youth who are actively fighting against the odds. We don't need saviors. We need allies.
If you're interested in donating to True Sioux Hope Foundation, e-mail info@TrueSiouxHope.org.
If you need help or need to talk to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, at 800-273-TALK (8255).
Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island, a place bound by the Mariah Slough and the Fraser River. She studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work, “Heart Berries,” can be found in Carve magazine, and her story, “House Party,” is forthcoming in Yellow Medicine Review.