PINE RIDGE, S.D. – The people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are no strangers to hardship or to the risk of lives being cut short. But a recent string of seven suicides by teenagers has shaken this impoverished community and sent tribal leaders on an urgent mission to stop the deaths.
The deaths begin in December, when a 14-year-old boy hanged himself. The most recent were in March, when two students took their lives. The youngest to die was 12.
Parents and officials say the reasons for the suicides include the reservation's poverty, bullying at school and the overall decimation of the Native American culture. Volunteer federal mental health counselors have begun two-week rotations at the reservation to counsel young people. Teachers are asking students to come forward with information about suicide pacts.