RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Jennifer Mesteth said Native American children are hurting and that suicide is too common. And she knows that firsthand.
"My own daughter tried," Mesteth said. "There are personal issues with each and every one. Like for mine, it is divorcing with her father, and he is no longer in the picture, and she was daddy's little girl, and it affected her hard."
Mesteth works for the Emergency Youth Shelter on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which provides refuge to Native American boys and girls between 12 and 17 years old.
The shelter on Friday night sponsored a candlelight vigil at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center to raise awareness of suicides on Indian reservations. About 40 people attended the event, which corresponded with the Lakota Nation Invitational tournament also being held at the civic center.
In some parts of the United States, suicide among Native American youths is 9 to 19 times as frequent as among non-Native youths, and the number is rising, according to an October investigation into the epidemic by the nonprofit investigative news organization 100 Reporters.
"I think everyone needs to pay attention to our kids because they are hurting. Pay attention and listen, don't walk away," Mesteth said.
Annie Richards, 19, of Kyle said alcohol and drug use by the teenagers and their parents are a major reason for suicides.
"I'm here because I lost a family member to suicide and just being here is important to me. It is paying tribute to those I have lost," Richards said. "I don't think people are aware of it. People should talk to Native American kids that have problems, that need help and want help."
The issue is so serious that of the 23 grants the federal government awarded nationally to prevent youth suicides in September, 10 went to Native American tribes or organizations, according to the investigative report.
Scotty Clifford of Porcupine plays in the band Scatter Their Own and performed at the vigil. He said some youths are living in dire situations and at the same time are taught to be courageous and speak out.
"Whenever people are not listening, they want to take action. In that case they try to make a message and reach out and make the biggest impact possible about needing to be heard," Clifford said. "The youth, they are not afraid to speak, and (suicide) is probably the biggest statement they could ever make."
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com