USA (MNN) — Teen suicide. It’s a problem in many parts of the world, but nowhere worse than on First Nations reservations in North America. According to some reports, suicide rates on some reservations are 10 times that of the national average.
Last month, Mission Network News reported that between December and March more than 200 young people either considered, attempted, or successfully committed suicide in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. That’s home to nearly 29,000 Lakota Sioux First Nation peoples. Tribal officials report 9 people were successful, including a 12-year-old girl.
Suicide was on everyone’s mind, says one church youth worker. “Once suicide started happening, they saw that as a viable option–kind of an escape. So, that kind of became an option for everyone, as young as 12 years old.”
(Listen to the complete interview here)
While the attempts seem to be less frequent right now, those working with the tribe are still concerned. There are many questions as to why this is happening. While poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and broken families are the obvious problems, this worker says the spiritual side can’t be ignored.
This Pine Ridge worker says spirits are a regular part of the lives of the Lakota Sioux. “They call on spirits, and spirits are a part of the ceremonies that they do. The people view them as good spirits and bad spirits, and would say there are bad spirits who are trying to do bad things.”
The worker says many who have attempted suicide told him they had dreams about it saying, “The spirit is going to make me kill myself. The spirit wants me to kill myself. It’s a really scary thing for someone who’s 13, 14, or 15 to deal with a spirit invading your life and trying to push you over the edge.”
This church youth worker says it is a spiritual battle. “Spirits are just kind of commonplace. Most teens–most people–have had some kind of experience with a physical manifestation of a spirit.”
This worker says the suicide epidemic has provided more opportunities to point to the Holy Spirit. “When you’ve got spirits pushing you to hurt yourself, the spirit of Christ can free you from that. That’s such a direct link and is such Truth, [and] people are looking for that now.”
In an interview with Mission Network News last month, On Eagles’ Wings, an outreach of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, asked Christians to pray against the suicide epidemic. Hutchcraft says, “This prayer alliance that’s formed across the country for this reservation and other reservations has actually slowed dramatically what was going on there over the first 3 1/2 months of this year.”
(Listen to the complete interview with Ron Hutchcraft here)
A team of 20 indigenous On Eagles’ Wings representatives were invited to spend a day in three high schools addressing the suicide issue recently. Hutchcraft says many gave their hearts to Christ.
The Pine Ridge worker says Christ is the only answer. The need right now is for more indigenous Christian workers. While non-tribal missionaries are sent from their home churches with financial support and do great work, indigenous workers aren’t as fortunate. “A lot of our indigenous leaders: they don’t have that. They grew up here, and so they don’t have a sending church because that’s us.”
They have an Indigenous Leaders Fund to help support Lakota Sioux workers as full or part time staff (click here to support them). Lakota Sioux workers are the key to evangelism, explains Hutchcraft. “People go up to them and say, ‘You’re a Christian?’ It’s a great thing for them to be role models. They kind of think, ‘All Christians are white, right?'” That dispels that myth.
On Eagles’ Wings is planning visits to 10 reservations all across North America this summer. Sixty indigenous Christians from reservations around North America will start work in just a few weeks. Hutchcraft says, “They have been the addicts, they have been the users, they have been the abused, they have been the almost-suicides, they have been the angry, the violent the gang members. And now, they come with the message of a brown-skin tribal man named Jesus.”
Your prayers and financial support can help with these reservation visits as most of them face similar social and spiritual challenges. To receive your Hope for Native America Prayer Guide and support an indigenous worker with On Eagles’ Wings, click here.