Volunteers and children come together to learn and heal at a healing camp on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo by Cindy Giago
Coalition of Lakota families fight against suicide
By Cindy Giago
Edited by Lakota Country Times staff PORCUPINE—On a cold morning in February. three grassroots organizations met on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to discuss the continuing suicide epidemic impacting Lakota children. The Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Society, the Medicine Horse Society and the Red Journey Society all came together to examine the horrific number of suicides on the reservation and ways to rid the reservation of it. Through the course of this meeting it quickly became apparent that with each program there had an intense desire and need to help the youth and their families suffering from the impact of this epidemic. These organizations are the first of seven families to align in this effort to promote Lakota Cultural Healing and Education and they were quickly joined by Sung Nagi Okolakiciye (Spirit Horse Society) from Manderson, SD. Out of the meeting came the Tiospaye Sakowin Wounspe na Woapiye O’Tipi or Seven Extended Families Education and Healing Center that opened on February 15 as well as a strategic plan intended to provide healing services to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Since the center's inception on February 15, there have been four additional completed suicides bringing the total to nine completed suicides.
Youth participate in the healing camp. Photo by Cindy Giago
One of the first priorities of the coalition was to provide a culturally relevant way for individuals in the helping field to assist and address the suicide issue on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. On March 26 and 27th Tiospaye Sakowin hosted a “Lakota Mental Health First Aid Training” facilitated by Richard and Ethleen (Iron Cloud) Two Dogs. This training provided the participants with the opportunity to understand the spiritual growth of individuals from their time of birth until their passing and what happens when this natural growth is interrupted through unnatural sources such as abuse (of all kinds), violence, accidents and suicidal ideation and completion. The presenters, board members of the collaborating societies, shared their insight and knowledge into the cultural perspective on indigenous healing. To a room of thirty plus participants, Mr. and Mrs. Two Dogs shared their knowledge through integrating the Lakota Customary, Natural, and Spiritual laws within the educational process, and to revitalize and implement the Lakota interventions through education and practice. Participants in the training ranged from youth to elderly. Many came from as far away as the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and others as close as Porcupine and Manderson. A surprise visit from Oglala Lakota Nation Tribal President John Steele highlighted the day’s events when he acknowledged the work being completed within the center and thanked all the participants in their vested interest in the epidemic. Collectively this program and its partnering societies provide over 20 plus years experience working with Lakota elders and traditional healers to revitalize and strengthen the Lakota life ways and laws through education, healing and collaboration. Their primary programmatic focus is to empower the Lakota Tiwahe (families) in reclaiming their Lakota identity. During the Easter holiday weekend this Lakota community-based organization, hosted a healing opportunity for our youth through a Teca Woasniye Wicoti (Youth Healing Camp) on April 2-6, 2015. Through this camp, learning, recreational and healing activities were offered to twenty six participating youth. Through this healing opportunity, as a way to give life to the values, gifts and teachings provided by Tunkasila (Grandfather/Creator) for the healing of the youth that were incorporated into the facilitation of programming. In recent years these collaborating organizations worked with community leaders, families and the Lakota people to provide healing opportunities to over sixty youth per annum in a series of youth camps based on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. These sixty youth reflect those young people who have addressed their unresolved trauma and emotional issues during these camps, then continue throughout life better equipped to address other issues. With financial support from local, state and Tribal organizations these camps are uniquely designed to address specific needs of the age and gender of the participating youth.
Youth participate in the healing camp. Photo by Cindy Giago
At conception, Teca Woasniye Wicoti was designed to service 24 Native American youth (12 males and 12 females) ages 12-17, who have experienced trauma, loss and/ or grief. Registration for the camp was closed on March 27th with 26 females and 13 males registered with continuing requests from the community for exceptions to the deadline so that more youth may attend; 26 youth completed the program. Ethleen Iron Cloud-Two Dogs, Camp Lead on this project stated, “All registrations will be accepted, no one will be turned away.” She continues to say, “As adult relatives, we seek to instill in our youth the Lakota belief that every individual has a purpose on earth and that resiliency to confront life’s challenges can be achieved.” Teca Woasniye Wicoti was set up to mirror a Tiospaye (extended family) governing which allows for all to work together. The youth of the camp engaged and participated in gender appropriate teachings and ceremonies. Each of the activities and ceremonies engaged the youth at different levels and allow them to work together in their healing experience, thus creating a small community approach. “There are so many people who came together to make this happen for our youth,” Cindy Giago, volunteer Program Manager for Tiospaye Sakowin states, “so many that it would be hard to name each person in one setting but there are those that go above and beyond to make things like this happen; like my brother and sister-in-law, my nephews, nieces and my daughter-in-laws that never back down from a good battle.” Mrs. Giago goes on to state that the Tunkasila and the Unci (the ancestors) provide the most important and significant guidance through prayer and the Societies are blessed with the earthly spiritual guidance of her Tiblo (older brother) Richard Two Dogs, a Lakota Medicine Man. Tiospaye Sakowin Education and Healing Center will be hosting additional Camps this summer which include the Teca Woasniye Wicoti (Youth Healing Camp) that happened in April, Wakanyeja Wicoti (Children’s Camp) in July, Wikoskalaka Yuwita Pi (Lakota Gathering of Young Women) in August and the Lakota Koskalaka Wica Yuwita Pi (Lakota Young Men's Gathering) times two in June and November 2015. As this organization depends greatly on charitable donations from well-meaning companies here in the United States; they ask you to please consider donating to their organization as you will be eligible for a charitable contribution for donating to a registered 501c3 organization. Please visit www.villageearth.org for more information or email: email@example.com. The center invites you to be one of their partners in the successful implementation of these programs that will address the needs of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in a much more in a culturally appropriate, positive and healing perspective. Find the award-winning Lakota Country Times on the Internet, Facebook and Twitter.
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