Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Native-American teens at suicide risk

Among youth ages 5 through 14, the Native American suicide rate is 2.6 times the national average. And, moving into later teen years and adulthood, the disparity is even greater.

According to Congressional testimony today, 17 teens have killed themselves in recent months in Cheyenne River. These suicides are typical of the pattern developing among American Indians. Many of them take the form of suicide pacts, where one by one, youth take their lives when their name comes such general depression as to join such a pact in the first place.

Julie Garreau, executive director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, comments:
Some of these suicides were young men who had made a suicide pact with one another. They drew numbers, and decided to hang themselves in that order. One by one their families found these boys, often hanging in their homes, as their number came up.

These deaths are part of an overall trend -- a trend given brief headline attention when 16-year-old Jeff Weise, a Chippewa Indian living on the Red Lake reservation in Minnesota, killed 10 people at school, including himself.

Garreau referenced this in her testimony to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
We are heartbroken that it may have taken an incident like the school shootings at the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota to bring national attention to the crisis our children are facing in Indian Country, but are so relieved that someone is finally hearing our voices
This is an issue that needs powerful intervention, spiritual care.

There is a lot going on here, behind this depression. There are deep issues of honor/shame culture among people with historical residuals of great sin and brokenness, facing current poverty, deprivation and hopelessness.

In other words: great need of confession, healing and restoration...

[Note: After comments by Walking Star, I realize that I need to make clear here: By 'confession, healing and restoration' I mean 'Confession to the Native American peoples' for the sake of healing and restoration. See: comments. Ok? Thank you! Loy]


Anonymous said...

Re: Closing comments on teen suicides as needing confession and restoration. With reference to Judeo/Christian ethic; It was through the Christian religion that the concept of "Original Sin" was promoted to native peoples as their shame and damnation. To further complicate the issue of salvation, inherent racisim and euro- centrism was and is the yoke that Indian people yet bend under. Our traditional spirituality that promotes the truth that everything is one thing, that everything and everyone is an aspect of God itself is the true contemporary source of healing to all people especially native people. Our beautiful native spirituality was beaten and tortured out of our Indian ancestors to the extent that few natives really know about our common spiritual connections to one another and to Wakan Tanka, God or whatever your word for the Divine All That Is may be. It is infinitly more important in my view to reaquaint Indian people with this version of religion that sustained and nourished our ancestors for millenia.

Anonymous said...

Dear Loy,
In the article concerning Indian teen suicide it points out the deep depression behind this horrifying trend as a result of historical residuals of "great sin" and brokeness leading to the conclusion that confession is key to healing and restoration. If this is a mindset that is being promoted by Ms. Garreau or by yourself, I would ask you both to think again. In the detribalization and "civilizing" process that we native people have suffered, the historical residual of great sin rests with those who committed uprovoked atrocities against us in the name of God and country. From the onset of our exposure to the invading Europeans and their imported fear based religions we have been ever regarded as souless, sub-human savages. The fabric of that racist mind is still intact woven into socio-political tapestries that shape native american's futures. Native peoople need to know that we have a traditional sprituality that is inclusive not exclusive and it says that everything is sacred, and we are related to all things in creation- for what could exist that is not a part of Creator. Perhaps forgiveness is the matter to discharge the anger and betrayal that most all native feel in the deepest parts of their hearts.
Walking Star

Loy Mershimer said...

Thank you, Walking Star, for your comments. Looking at my original article, I realize that portion of my comments [re: confession and need of restoration and healing] needs to be more clear.

The "great sin" I was speaking of [in terms of historical residuals], was the sin against the Native-American peoples, in such things as breaking honor [word as bond, shattered] and robbing the things necessary to inner quest in an honor/shame culture.

The "confession" I spoke of was a need of a word to be spoke to the Native-American people, asking forgiveness for innumerable broken promises [from *whites*] that led to further brokenness, as historically perpetuated and then carried forward.

The point I was trying to make is that some of this depression [re: suicide] stems from "great sin" against the Native-American peoples, which is residual in that it enables a feeling of powerlessness and self-definition of lesser worth, as one struggles to find his or her place in the world, as one struggles to find the warrior path in a society that no longer values such honor, and indeed, historically, trashed such honor.

And speaking as a Christian, there are specific sins which Christians need to confess, in relation to Native-American peoples. Perhaps this is the greatest sin of all -- as a false presentation of Christ has led to a wrong understanding of Christ [and rejection of Christ] among many Native-Americans.

So no! I was not blaming Native-Americans for this suicide trend, but rather calling for general confession to Indian peoples [in much the same manner as the Senate just apologized for refusing to stop lynchings, during a very bloody period of Southern history], and a specific confession from Christians [re: false religion crammed down throats, preaching hatred in the name of Christ].

Speaking as a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ is the one true Lord, the eternal Son of the 'Great Spirit' come to redeem all humankind, of all races and peoples.

However, speaking as one with lingering Native-American blood in my veins, I must confess that this Name has been used [wrongly] to oppress. Sadly, there is no greater sin, in my it shuts off this personal relation with the Great, Holy Spirit.

I totally agree that racism and Euro-centrism is a heavy yoke on the Native-American people: in more ways than just the obvious ways, and in far more ways than just historical. Some insidious ways that this happens, today: for example, mainstreamed 'media' culture that glamorizes a dishonest and shallow path, education that teaches an *ideal* which, at its heart destroys and honor culture and trashes the warrior path...these are heavy, heavy yokes that teens bow down under, and see no hope.

It is a serious issue! In the most real sense, lives are at stake.

God bless you, Walking Star, and thanks again for your comments.


Loy Mershimer said...

Note to YH: Thank you for your comments. If you would care to dialogue on email, please email me at loymershimer [at] gmail. com [add in the @ sign and take out spaces -- done that way to keep e-trackers from giving it to spammers]. Ok?

God bless you!