Our Children Are Dying
Lakota Spiritual Leader and Head Man, David Swallow,
Speaks Out on Reservation Crisis
by David Swallow,
Lakota Spiritual Leader and a Headman of the Lakota Nation
Edited and Published by Stephanie M. Schwartz,
Member, Native American Journalists Association (NAJA)
Text and Photo © July 09, 2008 Porcupine, South Dakota
Our children are dying. Our children are killing themselves in record numbers on our Lakota Reservations. They are filled with despair, confusion, and hopelessness and they see suicide as the only answer.
Many studies point to the hopelessness as being a result of generations of genocide committed by the historical policies of the Federal Government against the American Indians. But the policies of today are just as damaging. These policies create a system of “assimilate or die,” just another form of genocide.
I am not racist. This is not about hatred or racism. There are many good non-Lakota. But the damage from the Government and the mainstream culture and its almighty dollar is killing the children of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations. To look for solutions from the mainstream culture will only bring about more confusion, more genocide, and more destruction of our culture and our people.
Yes, our children need help. Then, they also need jobs. They need work. They need to have hope that they can survive. They need to be treated like real citizens, free to be who they are.
The current programs are not working. Our Reservations are dry but 60-70% of our people are still affected by alcoholism and drug addictions. There are a few non-profit organizations that do good work on our reservations. They really do try to help. But there are also many, many groups who only make money in our name. We’re a commodity to them, a way to get more and more money for themselves, while our children are suffering. It’s the same with some of the Tribal Council and Government programs. The money never reaches the people, it never really helps anyone.
Our children are living in a world of confusion and chaos. We need all the help we can get from our own people within our own culture. Gangs and cults and programs that are ignorant of the Lakota culture are not the answer. The Lakota child knows they are Lakota but these other things only work to destroy that identity. They brainwash our children into trying to assimilate rather than respecting and understanding themselves. They contaminate our children with false mainstream ideas and values which then only creates more desperation.
We could cure our own. We need to cure our own.
In my grandfather’s time, suicide was unknown. But today, it is everywhere. Our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews are crying for our help. They are dying without our help.
Traditional spirituality could make the difference. But the civilized world and Christianity have tied our hands. Our medicine men, our medicine women, and our spiritual leaders have no standing. We are not even consulted.
Yet, Traditional spirituality could make the real difference.
Traditional sweatlodge ceremonies could help purify the mind of these children who have been so wounded by society. It can wake up the spirit that is inside the person. It can bring healing of the mind, body, and spirit and it could help heal the entire family. But it needs to be the real thing, led by a legitimate traditional spiritual leader, and not just some sauna with a few nice words.
Learning to prepare foods in the traditional way could help them, too. It is important they understand that food prepared in a good way nourishes the family in a good way. They need to know that food prepared with anger and hatred only brings sickness with it.
There are many of the Traditional Ways which would work to bring about healing and hope for these children. It can restore their identity and become a way of life. It can teach them how to live a good life, in a good way. It can give them direction and understanding.
But we need to stop fighting among ourselves. We need to stop looking to the mainstream society for solutions. We need to stop looking to outsiders for cures. We need to look to the Ways of our ancestors to guide us. We, the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota People need to help our own grandchildren.
I am not asking for money. I am not asking for anything from the Government or the BIA except that we be set free. Set us free. Don’t try to force us to live in the mainstream ways. Don’t try to force us to assimilate. Let us live in our own Ways and heal ourselves and our children and grandchildren.
Ho he’cetu yelo. I have spoken these words.
David Swallow, Wowitan Yuha Mani
Porcupine, South Dakota - The Pine Ridge Reservation
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