Oglala Sioux Tribe Declares State of Emergency Due to Suicides

Aug 26, 2020

Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner issued a state of emergency declaration for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the rise in suicides, ideations and attempts.

OST Tribal Flag

According to the declaration, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation suffers exceedingly high of rates suicide coupled with deplorable conditions connected to extreme poverty and unemployment. The declaration goes on to say that Oglala Lakota County, which is entirely encompassed by the reservation, is consistently one of the of highest in negative statistics in any county in the United States and the citizens face economic challenges. Challenges that have plagued the tribe historically since western expansion and thus created  intergenerational trauma.

According to Tony Ten Fingers, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, historic trauma is the pandemic that many tribal members face today.

“With generational trauma, what happens is it invokes a lot of depression in people, especially young people, the young adults…so the generational trauma that they saw firsthand growing up on a reservation, especially if they had parents that drank or used drugs and they had to care for themselves when mom or dad are gone for days and they have to care for themselves,” said Ten Fingers. “That’s generational trauma, but when you go back to their parents, maybe they were the ones who were told not to speak Lakota or not to go to ceremony because that’s heathen, that’s devil worship. So you have all of this generational trauma that gets handed down over the years and so what happens is that there are a lot of bonds broken. When I say bonds, I mean family bonds. Family bonds are broken, the role of the father, the role of the mother, the role of the grandfather, grandmother,  the role of the oldest brother…all of these things are lost. Our pandemic is generational trauma.”

The declaration asks federal government to assist the tribe by providing sustainable and consistent financing to prevent suicide on their reservation. Bear Runner also called upon the tribal citizens to help one another. He is demanding that a previously established Tribal-Suicidal force to be reestablished to help implement strategies to prevent suicides. This taskforce will also make a report in the next 30 days to the U.S. Congress so that they can provide action on a bill that will provide long term solutions to the  socio-economic conditions on Pine Ridge.