|The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native
“WHAT DOES HOPE LOOK LIKE TO YOU?:” The Lakota Voice Project, which has been fighting the epidemic of youth suicide on the Pine Ridge Reservation, will be displaying students’ work at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City from Dec. 14 through Dec. 31. The project is currently looking for funding to continue its efforts. PHOTO COURTESY/LAKOTA VOICE PROJECT
Lakota Voice Project takes hold in Rapid City
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Staff Writer
RAPID CITY — Lakota Voice Project will be displaying its work at the Dahl Arts Center in downtown Rapid City on Friday, Dec. 14, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The project, which is the brainchild of an Oglala Lakota College intro to business class and the Black Hills chapter of the American Advertising Federation, is an anti-suicide campaign that uses photographic images to promote hope across the Pine Ridge Reservation.
For some time now, Native American communities across the country have been caught in the grip of a teen suicide epidemic. The Oglala Lakota Nation has been hit particularly hard by teen suicide, with rates 150 percent higher than the national average and with youth as young as 6 years old reportedly having attempted to take their own lives.
The number of teen suicides on the reservation led then-OST President Theresa “Huck” Two Bulls to declare a suicide state of emergency in 2009.
In order to acquire an idea of what hope is on the reservation, Lakota Voice distributed 200 cameras to elementary and middle school students at Loneman, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud schools and asked the students to take photos of what they considered hope to be.
Lakota Voice then took the images captured by the students and launched a traditional advertising campaign, a social media site and a special website that would display the images, in an attempt to address and curb the high rates of suicide on the reservation.
“From the beginning, this was about starting a conversation about suicide and raising awareness for those on and off the reservation,” said Karissa Eifert of the Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce. Eifert is a strategic partner in the project.
The images captured by students on the reservation will be on display in an art installation at the Dahl Arts Center on Dec. 14.
“Having the event at the Dahl gives us a chance to reach a lot of people. Also, by running the display during the Lakota Nation Invitational those who haven’t seen what the project is doing will have an easy opportunity to do so,” Eifert added.
During the event there will be presentations from the Lakota Voice Project, community members and students on the importance of suicide prevention and awareness. There also will be an appearance by Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker, a Native American traditional prayer and a song from a local drum group.
Although LVP has made major inlets on the Pine Ridge Reservation by forming relationships with community members and tribal organizations like the Be Excited About Reading, or BEAR, program, funding for the project is slowly drying up.
“We are beginning to pour a whole lot of money out of our own pockets to further the project,” said Jason Alley of AAF-Black Hills. “The event at the Dahl is really twofold: one, to raise awareness about teen suicide - which has always been our goal - but we are also looking to find business partners who can help us to keep the LVP in operation,” he added.
If the Lakota Voice Project can secure funding, organizers hope to take their efforts to other reservations across the state of South Dakota.
“This project is definitely sustainable,” Alley noted. “And if we can keep it going we are looking to go to reservations like Eagle Butte and Lower Brule.”
The photo exhibit will run through Dec. 31 at the Dahl Arts Center, located at 713 7th St. in Rapid City.
For more information on Lakota Voice, go to the project’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LakotaVoiceProject.
(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)