USA (MNN) — Leaders on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation recently issued a state of emergency after four youth suicides in two weeks. Authorities reported 177 suicide attempts among 14- to 32-year olds between January and mid-August, and nine deaths by suicide.
Between 2017 and 2019, the Oglala Sioux tribe saw 458 suicide attempts and four deaths by suicide. In 2015, then-President Theresa Two Bulls declared a state of emergency following 17 suicides or attempts in a single month.
“[Suicide] seems more prevalent right now. I don’t have hard data on it, but it seems like an uptick of the enemy’s attacks,” says Brad Hutchcraft of On Eagles’ Wings.
“People need to know so that God’s people can pray. Not just ‘help them more’ prayers, but [a] spiritual warfare type of praying so that we can see the stronghold of suicide broken and true hope breakthrough.”
Suicide is a chronic ailment among Native youth throughout the U.S. According to the Aspen Institute, between 11- and 20-percent of Native young people attempt suicide each year. The suicide rate among Native youth is 2.5-times higher than the national average. Read our past coverage here.
Hutchcraft describes various factors keeping the Native suicide rate so high: “There’s poverty, there’s abuse, there’s a system that has long overlooked their needs,” he says.
“Now, there’s a pandemic that makes them feel even more trapped. Lockdowns are continuing on many reservations. They’re ‘locked off’ from help; they’re ‘locked in’ with the pain, and that pain can often be another person they have to share this space with.”
Unfortunately, the most recent “suicide streak” goes beyond Pine Ridge. It hit the On Eagles’ Wings team last week. Team leaders received calls about “three suicides and two attempts [last week] from across Native America and some of our First Nations friends,” Hutchcraft says.
“Some of these are friends of ours that are struggling with people they love, a sister to one of our close friends,” he continues.
“These statistics jump off the page when the statistic gets a face, gets a name.”
How to help
In the past, OEW responded to suicide emergencies by mobilizing a rapid response team. However, “we can’t do that right now because of reservation restrictions and the concerns about COVID in many areas of the country,” Hutchcraft says.
“What we can do is continue to seek [answers to questions like,] ‘How can we be there online for them? How can we be there as a voice of hope?’”
Whether in-person or online, OEW team members stand in the gap for their Native brothers and sisters. Support their efforts here.
“On Eagles’ Wings team members carry the scars of their suicide attempts, in many cases. But, they have a powerful impact because they’ve shared that the scars are in the past,” Hutchcraft says.
“They have found hope, and His name is Jesus.”
Header image is a representative stock photo courtesy Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash.