If you are looking for a sign not to kill yourself, this is it.

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Teenagers in the Parmelee Community host a suicide prevention walk. Photo by Vi Waln

By Vi Waln

If you are looking for a sign not to kill yourself, this is it.

If you are looking for some sign to stay alive, this is it. Whether you know it or not, the world needs your talents and unique inner gifts. Your life is an opportunity to make some sort of positive difference in this world. If you were looking for a sign from Wakan Tanka, Creator God, the Universe, or an Angel to continue living, consider this your sign. Sometimes a simple sign letting you know that someone cares and wants you to keep living is all that you need. www.mentalhealthdaily.com

September is designated as National Suicide Prevention Month. American Indian and Alaskan Native people have some of the highest suicide rates on earth. Here on the Rez, many of us consider every month as suicide prevention month. We all must do our part to encourage our people on how valuable their lives are to their families, their tribe and others around them.

It was a completely different world when I was a teenager. I do remember all the bullying that went on, but I don’t remember anyone in my school committing suicide. Today, we’ve lost many Lakota people to suicide. The majority of them were just teenagers. Our children need their relatives and other people around them to help them realize they have their entire lives ahead of them. As individuals, we each have to make a commitment to do more for the young people we encounter every day. They all deserve to know that things will get better.

Still, it’s hard to believe that anything will get better when you live on the Rez. There are so many social problems our people are forced to deal with. Alcohol, drugs and broken families have affected us all. The lack of an economy and the high poverty rate have harsh effects on many of our teenagers and children. There are so many issues which can factor into the choice an individual makes when they are contemplating taking their own life.

There is a saying about how it takes a village to raise a child. Our ancestors knew this to be true and everyone contributed to raising healthy children. These contributions were made through ceremony, encouragement, teachings, being involved and educating the young people about what it means to be Lakota.

Unfortunately, much of our cultural teachings and values have been forgotten by our people. The influence of the wasicu has permeated our entire society. Alcohol, drugs, religion, boarding schools and the countless other negative influences brought by the people who came to take our land has contributed greatly to our cultural and spiritual losses.

We each have a responsibility to make an effort to encourage our people and help them see there is hope for all of us. More importantly, we have to provide our young Lakota people reasons to keep moving forward with their lives. We all have to do our part to combat the suicide statistics our reservations are known for.

Becoming involved in Lakota ceremony can contribute a great deal to the mental health of our children and young people. Last summer, I watched several of our young Lakota men sacrifice themselves in the sun dance. Their prayers were very strong. I approached some of them and told them how much I appreciated them because they gave me hope. The prayers of our young people can help to carry all of us forward.

Many of us pray every day for the families who have lost someone to suicide. We often have no words to comfort the people who are grieving the loss of a child to suicide. Their pain and grief are incomprehensible to us. The death of a child changes a Tiospaye forever.

I do want to say how much I appreciate the Lakota people who work in our suicide prevention programs on the Rez. They have difficult jobs. We can never be sure which one of our young people is having problems, especially when they don’t say anything. We have to encourage our teenagers and children to have a positive outlook despite all the negativity they might be experiencing or living with.

I especially want to acknowledge the tireless work of Tiny DeCory of Pine Ridge. She is my friend on Facebook and very active on social media. When a young person on the Pine Ridge Rez is contemplating suicide, Tiny will look for them no matter what time of day it is. She will post on Facebook the name of the young person and ask for help looking for them. When I see her Facebook posts, I pray for the young person to choose life. Thank you Tiny, for all the work you have done to save young lives. Many of us appreciate the work you do with the youth of Pine Ridge and the Bear Program.

If you are one of the people out there contemplating suicide, remember there are people who care very much about you. If you are having problems you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to talk with someone about the issues you are facing. The number is 1-800-273-8255. On the Rosebud Rez you can call 319-1280. Please know there are people you can talk to who care and are willing to help you.

Remember, you are mistaken if you believe that committing suicide will take away the pain you feel. People who kill themselves leave behind family and friends who will experience a much greater pain than you are feeling now. There are people who love you dearly! Call one of the numbers listed above and get help today. Call upon our Lakota ancestors and find courage to keep moving forward. Your life is sacred.

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