Laughter and Suicide
[imgbelt img=JRredwater530.jpg]Accidents and suicide are the leading causes of death among young Native Americans. And brazen humor may get to the heart of the problem.
In an interview with the Grand Folks Herald, Theresa Two Bulls, president of the Oglala Sioux tribe, cited alcohol as the primary factor behind the suicide rate. In the same article, Eric Broderick of SAMHSA notes that most Indians who die by suicide have never received treatment from mental health care providers. High rates of poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, low self esteem and poor parenting conspire to create despair: suicide may seem the only answer. Shame and fear keep many people from reaching out, especially to non-Indian organizations.
the Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Walk. The walk started in
Sydney, Nova Scotia, and wound up in Victoria, British Columbia.
In response, many tribes have created their own suicide prevention programs that emphasize culturally sound approaches to mental health issues. With funds from SAMHSA, Cankdeska Cikana Community College has created a suicide prevention program that emphasizes Dakota culture in its Wiconi Ohitika Project. Translated as “Strong Life,” the project provides counseling, education and community presentations for the Spirit Lake Nation.
Contrary to our Hollywood generated reputation for stoicism, Indians love to laugh. We love to laugh really loud, hard and deep. My childhood memories are rich with the sound of wave after wave of laughter issuing from my adult relatives seated around the kitchen table. At its best, that laughter could cleanse the soul like a mighty tsunami reminding us of our fierce desire to survive.
Watching JR reminded me of our traditional Ojibwe teachings from the lodge, teaching that include humor along with love, knowledge, humility, wisdom, respect and truth. I think the creator knew we would really need the gift of humor if Ojibwe and indigenous people in general were to survive.
Nearly every Indian person I know has been touched by suicide. I still recall vividly my first experience with suicide in our family.
My childhood included being jerked out my bed in the middle of the night numerous times to rescue relatives. I recall one such night when I came to my senses in the back seat, still in my Jiminy Cricket jammies, I asked hopefully if we were going to visit Riverside Amusement park on this trip to Chicago. The “shaddup,” response not only answered my question but ended all future inquiries.
Eventually we arrived at the bus depot in downtown Chicago. Cold, dirty and indifferent, it presented such a stark departure from my homey little Wisconsin town.
My brother appeared like a ghost from the rows of plastic seats, his arms covered in bandages from his armpits to his wrists. He was strangely lifeless when I cheered and threw my little sister arms around him. “Leave your brother alone now!” my mom instructed harshly. I will never forget that ride home. The silence was like a dark presence, a bad medicine that had been worked upon us. There was no discussion of his suicide attempt. To this day, I know very little detail. Eventually he reentered life after a fashion. Drinking and drugging the pain away, the rest of his life became one long drawn out suicide until his body finally gave out from the years of abuse.