• South Dakota is among a group of states in the western United States that consistently has a higher rate of suicide than the rest of the country has.
  • About 107 people die of suicide in South Dakota every year (one suicide every three or four days).
  • About 12 teenagers--one a month-- dies of suicide in South Dakota.
  • The death rate of people age 15 to 24 is twice as high in South Dakota as it is on average throughout the United States.
  • Young Indian males die of suicide at 4 to 5 times the rate, on average, of young white males in South Dakota.
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in South Dakota for people 15-34, regardless of sex or race.
  • Suicide is the fourth-leading cause of death in the state for all people 35-44, and the fifth-leading cause of death for all people 45-54.
  • From 1993 to 2002 (10 years): 897 whites, 162 Indians, and 9 people of other races died of suicide here (total: 1,068)

    (From South Dakota Suicide Prevention)

In 1998 the New York Times published an article about suicide in my hometown.

The Surgeon General's Teen Suicide Initiative Transcript

In the Mix documentary trailer (1998)


When I was 15 I was featured in a documentary produced by PBS called In the Mix: Depression On the Edge. The video explored my hometown and the problems we were having with teen suicide. I had been severely depressed from 4th grade until 8th grade. I started stealing, drinking, smoking, and doing drugs at 11yrs. At 12, my 13yr. old friend Adrian hung himself. I joined a gang and was fighting girls and boys. At 14, I'd been arrested, spent a couple nights in Juvenile Detention and had started bringing needles and weapons to school.

I was out of control and didn't have anything to look forward to. Suicide was constantly occurring. It was part of the landscape. It seemed like every three months there would be another one. Everyone had their suicide song, suicide outfit, suicide note drafts written on our arms and legs and in our journals, funeral clothes. We would lay flowers on the sidewalks that lead up to the steps of the homes of our dead friends. We grew tighter as we unraveled, each of us cherishing the time we'd spend together because we knew we were all chasing the same fate. We knew how we would do it, where we would do it, what time of day or night we would do it. We wrote wills and wore Marilyn Manson t-shirts to the churches as we buried each other. The adults told us it was God's work. I couldn't accept that. We had been forgotten and it was killing us.

In my 14th summer my best friend Aaron, the Dawson to my creek, who lived just up street called me for the last time. There was something different about the way he said good-bye but I ignored it because I was getting hammered across the street from my apartment in G-town. Long story short, he hung himself in a drug induced stupor, I lost it: ran away, got arrested, assaulted an officer and attempted suicide enough times to be flown con-air style to a treatment facility. During my stay, I lost more friends and my friend Arin's 17yr. old sister was shot in a murder/suicide by her boyfriend, at his house which was just down the block from her home.

I spent 6 months working on my depression. I figured that I would take the opportunity to work through it in hopes that life would get better. It was suggested that I take Lithium and I declined because I figured that if I could change how I was feeling by thinking about it in a new way, then it would be more effective to feel the fullness of everything without medication to work through it properly. I believed I was stronger than my emotional issues and it turned out I was right.

I requested to have myself placed in foster care in the town across the river from my hometown so that I could have a safe environment to finish high school. I joined the Suicide Prevention Committee, took training courses on how to address teen suicide with teenagers, joined an improv/performance group that focused on diversity and teen issues; through our travels was allowed to tell my story at high schools and universities. I went to survivor's meetings, talked with parents, and was frequently asked to be part of the high school administration's meetings that addressed the aforementioned issues.

So when the word came that PBS was going to be filming in Pierre, I was elected to be the one of the representatives and graciously accepted. From there, I made the local news because of my efforts, was in a segment with John Quinones about depression and my refusal to take medication for treatment, and interviewed by Teen People in an issue where they published part of my friend Kenny's suicide letter. My part was not included in the issue.

I was pretty nervous about sharing so much of myself with people but I knew that I could handle the responsibility. I had been raised to consider what would be best for the community and for the people and so any insecurities I had were pushed aside by my belief in tradition. 25,000 copies of the video were produced and distributed to middle schools and high schools across the country. It was incorporated into the mental health portion of Health class as a way to open up dialog with the students.

My work is an extension of these previous efforts and manifests in many ways, currently I am exploring work related to my body. The reason I make work because I need to be a good example to my nieces and nephews so that they can garner hope in the same town where suicide is once again running rampant.

Much of what I do is writing. My first love: poetry. I loved it because a beautiful phrase can both enliven and break your heart and because some things can only be said with poetry.

Continuing on with this tradition of doing what is best for the people, I was asked to speak at this year's Take Back the Night event sponsored by the La Frontera-Empact Suicide Prevention Center. I received services from Empact for PTSD treatment and was nominated by my Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing counselor because I had done so well in our sessions. I accepted knowing that it would be a great opportunity to tell this story in a way spoke to the transformation that had occurred. Poetry was the only way I could tell this story.

Take Back the Night Speech