PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) - The Administration for Native Americans has awarded a $400,000 emergency grant to the Oglala Sioux Tribe to pay for activities and programs designed to prevent youth suicides on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Kevin Yellow Bird Steele, a spokesman for the tribe, told the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1VABP5f ) that the money will be used to provide youth activities that promote positivity.
Young people told tribal leaders last winter that there is nothing to do on the reservation, Yellow Bird Steele said. Grant-funded activities could include beautifying the reservation, planting gardens and trees, organizing community dinners and other social events, as well as horse competitions and softball tournaments.
“We’re trying to get communities involved, to bring people together,” he said.
The Administration for Native Americans, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, supports Native American communities by providing financial assistance and capacity building, gathering and sharing data and advocating for improved policies. The $400,000 is meant to cover the fiscal year of 2015-2016, with an additional $400,000 to be awarded for the next fiscal year.
Yellow Bird Steele appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in June and said 11 young people on the reservation had committed suicide since December, along with 176 youth suicide attempts and 229 people who were treated for “suicidal ideation,” a phrase that means people were forming or conceiving thoughts to take their own lives.
He said that even with such collaboration and new positive options for youth, the reservation still faces serious alcohol and drug problems. But he said the spreading of the federal grants over two years gives the tribe the opportunity “to continue to get things done.”
Dr. Richard McKeon, chief of the Suicide Prevention Bureau of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, said the grant money is intended to be used “for youth to be engaged in meaningful activity.” But he added that activities need to be part of a broad approach to treat what he called “a very significant suicide cluster” on Pine Ridge.
“Such clusters have occurred (previously) in Indian Country over the years,” he said. “This is the most recent example of that.”