By Megan Red Shirt-Shaw
This letter is for the entire Natives In America writing team.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, words that all of us as Native people in this country know well. The reason why we know it is because it’s often reported that our youth have the highest suicide rate in the country. I remember this especially today because on Pine Ridge, where I’m enrolled, 100 youth between the ages of 9 and 24 tried to commit suicide this year. 19 succeeded. This is a heavy load for anyone to carry with them as we think about how we honor ourselves, our families, our peers, our communities, and overall really, our nations. Today I don’t want to focus on that weight, but I want to focus on your future and how you will be the reason why the conversation shifts.
It’s important for me to tell all of you how much I love and respect you for the work that you do, every day, on the ground, making your surroundings better. You are writers, poets, spoken word artists, hip hop artists, visual artists, firefighters, mentors, ambassadors, CEOs, founders, fellows, board members, modern day warriors, activists with groundbreaking ideas and at the end of the day, human beings with hearts that believe in change. You are also siblings to brothers and sisters, and this is a huge responsibility alongside everything else you do. You are aunts and uncles. You are daughters and sons. You are mentees to mentors. You are mentors to mentees. In the decisions you make and in the words you choose, you may not realize it – but you are honoring and upholding generations of youth to come. You are inspiring others. And really, at the end of the day, you’re showing other young people how much our lives and opinions matter. And that, dear team, is why I’m writing to you today.
What I continue to learn every day about our frameworks is that we ignite change as sovereign nations by being inspiring to our younger generations and reminding them that high school matters, college matters, art matters, culture matters, traditions matter, language matters, feelings matter, and that through the darkness we will find the light if we push through together. I wanted to write to you on this day of all days because you are the strength of Indian Country and you are the reasons why these numbers will change. For every bright and beautiful Native student we lose, we can hold hands and work on prevention for the next who needs a reminder that they matter. You are already doing this. Every walk you go on with your niece makes a difference. Every youth you reach out to about the college application process makes a difference. Every word you hit in your beats that impacts a young listener makes a difference. Every art piece you sell, every word you write, every organization you join, every positive action that you help the world experience makes a difference. Today, I wanted to remind you, of how much you are changing the framework of the world for the better. For this, we are all grateful to you.
Part of the reason why this publication exists is because I want you all to hold hands with each other but also with the next generation who deeply needs you. Getting to know you as a team has been one of the greatest gifts I could have ever possibly imagined and I am so thankful that today we can focus on our grief for those lost with hope in our hearts – because of you.