In an April 23rd commentary piece entitled "Wave of 200 Teen Suicides Reveals Spiritual Warfare in South Dakota", Katey Hearth discusses youth suicides at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The commentary piece comes in the wake of a spate of adolescent suicides among the Oglala Sioux since December 2014. Hearth quotes Ron Hutchcraft of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, who insists that the suicides are rooted in "a spiritual battle with spiritual forces".
To her credit, Hearth's acknowledges the historical and modern traumas that have impacted Pine Ridge, placing the youth suicides in context. The legacy of white conquest and violence, high rates of infant morality, and poverty continue to afflict Pine Ridge communities, she observes. Unfortunately, the commentary piece uses tragedy as a backdrop for superstition. Hearth quotes Hutchcraft, who attributes the suicides to demons.
"They call them the shadow people or the dark people ... There are spirit beings—demonic beings—that are stalking the reservation and convincing young people that they are worth nothing ... and [that have] started this 'cloud of death' over the reservation."According to the article, Ron Hutchcraft Ministries will send 20 Native American youth to Pine Ridge "to share the hope of Christ" as part of its annual Summer of Hope outreach.
Charisma wasted no time blaming tragedies on demons, demonstrating its usual tastelessness and insensitivity. However, the root of Native youth suicides are much more complex. Research shows that suicidal ideation among Native youth is correlated with a host of problems facing Native American communities. Many Native communities experience elevated rates of interpersonal violence, which is correlated with drug and alcohol abuse, depression, suicidality, and other negative outcomes. Native women and girls are at disproportionate risk for domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking. Colonization and racism intersect with other forms of oppression for some Native Americans. Poverty remains a very real problem for some Native communities. Surrounded by these harrowing realities, is it any wonder that some Native youth sink into despair? Native youth suicides have nothing to do with demons and everything to do with real-life problems that require sophisticated solutions.
I have much more confidence in service providers who are trying to help Native youth than in proselytizing. I have more faith in evidence-based suicide prevention programs than in superstition. We must all have faith in the resilience of Native youth and in the compassion of their communities.
So Charisma, spare us the demon talk.