Student Well-Being

Suicide Prevention on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to Be Aided by Federal Grant

By Evie Blad — June 17, 2015 3 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $218,000 grant to the Pine Ridge School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to aid in its recovery from a recent suicide cluster.

Seven teenagers have killed themselves in recent months on the 2 million-acre reservation, which is home to members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The community has already held meetings to plan a response, middle and high school students have taken to social media to discuss the deaths, and teams of mental health counselors with the U.S. Public Health Service have arrived to work with students, I wrote in April.

The new grant is part of the Education Department’s Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant program, which provides funds to K-12 schools and higher education institutions to help them “recover from a violent or traumatic event in which the learning environment has been disrupted.” That’s the same pot of money used to provide assistance to Newtown, Conn., and other districts recovering from school shootings.

The grant was awarded to the Pine Ridge School, an 800-student boarding and day school, at the request of officials from the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education and the Bureau of Indian Education, the Education Department said.

The Bureau of Indian Education-operated school requested the grant after reporting an uptick in counseling referrals, suicide attempts, and reports of suicidal ideation, the agency said. Officials will use the funds to “support implementation of a multi-faceted and holistic approach to healing that is based on Lakota traditional culture and relevant to Pine Ridge School students,” and to hire additional counselors and social workers to help students during the summer school session and the next school year,” the department said.

“We are heartbroken about the tragic loss of life and are committed to working with the Pine Ridge community as it heals. These funds will help Pine Ridge School’s continued efforts to restore the learning environment in the face of these great tragedies,” William Mendoza, director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, said in a statement. “This Administration is committed to supporting tribes in their work to meet the needs of their students. We all must do more to address the challenges across Indian Country.”

About $2.7 million of the fiscal year 2015 appropriation for Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities National Activities is reserved for Project SERV. So far in fiscal year 2015, the Education Department has awarded Project SERV grants to Fairfax County Schools in Falls Church, Va., the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Marysville School District in Marysville, Wash.

The Pine Ridge Reservation faces challenges of high rates of poverty and alcoholism, poor health and education outcomes, and higher-than-typical rates of suicide among all age groups.

The state of Indian schools and outcomes for native youths have been hot topics of conversation on Capitol Hill recently. To read more about the challenges facing Native American youths on the Pine Ridge reservation and elsewhere, read this great package of stories on Indian education that Education Week ran in 2013.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

Photo: Education Week file photo by Swikar Patel.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.