News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bad days at Standing Rock, and other reservations

[This photograph is from the movie "Rez Bomb" shown at the South Dakota Film Festival in Aberdeen last weekend. It was shot at the Pine Ridge Reservation]


The much derided member of the main stream media, The Argus Leader, has run a series of articles on the suicide epidemic among young people on the Rosebud Reservation. In the last 3 1/4 years, 28 young people have taken their own lives.

While so much of the electronic media and the parasitic blogs that feed on it distort and quibble about what politicians and political commentators are saying, there are issues being covered by real journalists that do something other than heap insult and abuse on other people. In fact, the mentality that generates the insult and abuse is a menacing presence on the reservations that scourges the mind much as the the buffalo slaughterers of a century ago scourged the land and the culture.

Suicide bombers in Iraq and other countries beset by Islamic terrorists are chronicled by the press on a daily basis, but the alarming rate of suicides on the Indian reservations is all but ignored except for occasional articles such as the series running in the Argus Leader. A factor in that story may be the involvement of the Center for Disease Control, which has been consulted to help the tribe deal with the suicide rate on the Rosebud.

I have had occasion to spend time on Standing Rock in recent weeks. While I was there to attend the opening of some new facilities of Sitting Bull College and some meetings dealing with crime, I was made aware that Standing Rock has, also, been dealing with an alarming suicide rate among the young. One web log states that between 1998 and 2002, there were more than 600 suicide attempts on Standing Rock. The article states that 224 were successful.

An article series in the political newsletter Counterpunch focuses on Standing Rock and its historoy of suicides, but also places some emphasis on suicides among all young people.

Indian Country Today carries a story of a Senate committee hearing at Standing Rock to explore what can be done about the suicide epidemic there and on other reservations. The rate on the reservations is 2.5 times the rate for young people in the U.S. as a whole.

At the hearing, it was pointed out that alcohol and drugs were involved. But the underlying cause--and that behind the problems with drugs and alcohol--is a sense of pointlessness and hopelessness. Racial discrimination and denigration is a constant ingredient mentioned by those who study the problem.

When the native peoples were forced onto reservations, their culture was taken away and the young were punished for speaking in their native languages. An economy based on an integration with nature and subsistence was destroyed and they were expected to replace it with the consumerism that drives our economy. To native peoples, the English language was regarded as a weapon used against them. Its words were missiles of destruction used to deny, denigrate, and deceived them. The language carried deadly germs in the form of words, which would kill you once they invaded you. They were used only to betray.

The thought is stated in a line from a well-known short story, "Lullaby" by Leslie Marmon Silko: "...it was like the old ones always told her about learning their [while people's] language or any of their ways: it endangered you."

History says the American Indians were subjugated by the destruction of their culture. On the Plains, the bison were killed off to take away the primary food source and the culture built around it, and the people were made dependent on their subjugators. It is like having petroleum taken away from a culture built around it--something we are beginning to experience.

But the issue is more the use of language as weapons and instruments of denial and destruction. While many online sources of news and comment are created for constructive purposes, many others expressions of a culture that deceives, insults, abuses, and generally confines its language to intended malice. Typically some blogs and their hordes of commenters can only accuse people of opposing viewpoints of bad character, mental failures, and incompetence in their chosen fields of endeavor. It is, ironically, people of low character, deprived intellect, and floundering levels of competence who persistently accuse others of them.

They think insult, abuse, and misstatement are the stuff of political discourse and are clever devices for quelling their opponents. But they debase the language and create a verbal environment that corrodes away any chance at cultural regeneration.

In their environment, dropping out and suicide seems the best future for young people who face the culture of malignancy. Education is, probably, the best antidote--but not education delivered by the malignant, whose language and words promise only a pointless and hopeless future.

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