Friday, June 15, 2007

If It Were Clive People Would Care

(Cross Posted At Iowa

American “Indians,” said the brilliant Native American writer and leader Vine Deloria Jr., are probably invisible because of the tremendous amount of misinformation about them.

That assessment from thee late Deloria, an Iowa State University graduate, is no
doubt one of the reasons you likely know more about Paris Hilton than what should be one of the biggest news stories in America.

Last Saturday, The New York Times ran a Page 1 story on Paris Hilton. Is she drunk? Is she in jail? Does someone have a new video of her giving it up? Is she wearing underwear?

Meanwhile, deeper in the newspaper, on Page 9 to be precise, there was a horrifying story about a suicide epidemic on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, only a few hours drive from Carroll, Iowa.

According to The Times, in the first 10 weeks of 2007 tribal authorities were called to three suicides and scores of attempts. On March 14 a state of emergency was declared.

“Since then, a woman in her early 20s killed herself with pills, and scores more young people have tried to kill themselves — a total of 144 so far this year, at doctors’ best count.”

The reservation has a population of about 13,000 people. That’s roughly the size of the Des Moines suburb of Clive.

Imagine if 144 white Clive kids had tried various means of killing themselves in a matter of months?

The Des Moines Register would be covering it with Pulitzer Prize eyes. Dateline would be camped here, and Larry King would be asking Dr. Phil to diagnose it all.
Schools would be shut down and some people in Clive might even stop going to Bed Bath & Beyond or Jordan Creek Mall.

But alas these are Native Americans.

There is no such alarm.

This Rosebud story is not isolated. The suicide rate among Great Plains Native American youth is 10 times the national average of 13 per 100,000.
“Plains reservations are among the poorest places in the country, with all of poverty’s consequences,” The New York Times reports. “But the why of the suicide phenomenon — why American Indian youth, why the Great Plains — is complicated, experts say. The traumas Plains tribes have experienced over the last 175 years — massacres like the one at Wounded Knee, the decimation of their land and culture — are part of it.”

There are no doubt many ways our nation can respond to this crisis. Health services on reservations are under-funded, and Congress has dropped the ball in that arena. Getting basic medical services and mental-health professionals in place would be a good place to start.

It might also help if the country gave a damn.

One white girl goes missing from a Target in Kansas and parents and the nation grieve as one. But more dead Indians? Who watches westerns anymore? Change the channel.
But we can’t look away from this. We must see the tragedy. We must add this up in our hearts.

“Officially, three youths at Rosebud committed suicide last year and 193 tried,” The Times reports. “But not all suicides or attempts involve calls to the police, officials here said.”

The Native American story is a national shame, and Rosebud is another chapter.
Aside from discussing the broken treaties and genocide that cleared the land of the native culture and made way for our homes and Wal-Mart Supercenters, there is another reason to respond in Rosebud with whatever resources they need.
Native Americans were there to save others centuries ago.

“When Indian people remember how weak and helpless the United States once was, how much it needed the good graces of the tribes for its very existence, how the tribes shepherded the ignorant through drought and blizzard, kept them alive, helped them grow — they burn with resentment at the treatment they have since received from the United States government,” Deloria wrote in his 1969 classic, “Custer Died for Your Sins.”

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