West River Eagle

LD LaPlante Memorial Ride and Sacred Heart candlelight vigil bring light to Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Willie Eagle Chasing of Pierre, a CRST tribal member, lost her beloved brother LD LaPlante Jr. to suicide on November 13, 2019.

As soon as plans were announced that Labor Day events in Eagle Butte would resume in 2022, Eagle Chasing reactivated plans for a seven-day ride to memorialize her brother and raise awareness of suicide.

The annual Labor Day Powwow, Rodeo and Fair was cancelled in 2020 — the first year after her brother’s death — and again in 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. 

The 2022 ride ended at the fair grounds on the first day of September, which is national Suicide Awareness Month according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). It is a time to raise awareness of this stigmatized and often taboo topic. 

She remembers the ride as a time of “…No negativity, just lots of love, prayers, and healing – creating bonds with lots of people. And we’re forever grateful for that.”

Eagle Chasing says, “A lot of people don’t think (suicide) should be talked about or brought up. But there’s so many that suffer the loss of loved ones (by suicide) because they can’t, or aren’t allowed to, talk about it. We wanted to bring light to the issue: That it is there, it is a problem, and we need to do more to help each other, especially our youth.” 

She continued, “Lots of childhood traumas that go without help, as well as adult issues, lead up to suicide. Family issues, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse, mental abuse, depression, bullying – all these things and more are all issues that need to be addressed more. And suicide itself – the stigma about it, the false judgment of it. My heart hurts every day for the loss of my brother and I just want to bring light to this issue to try to help others. 

The 2022 LD LaPlante Memorial and Suicide Awareness Ride was the first of four rides planned. Eagle Chasing says that each year the ride will come from a different direction and those planning the rides are “hoping to reach more people and bring more awareness and share our stories and support.” Eagle Chasing expressed “a huge thank you” to the many individuals and programs who supported the ride, saying, “You are most appreciated.” Dates for the 2023 ride will be announced later this year.

When the staff of the Sacred Heart Center (SHC) in Eagle Butte started planning their monthly outreach event for September, they discovered that every single person on staff at the Family Violence Program had been personally touched by a death from suicide. Program director Lorene Thomas (Dakota/Tlingit) said the staff quickly decided their September outreach event would be in observance of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. On Friday, Sept. 23, the Sacred Heart Center hosted a candlelight vigil, a (biodegradable) balloon release, and a memorial supper. Thomas said, “The candles were a symbol of hope and releasing the balloons reminded us to let go of what’s hurting us. …It was awesome.”

Lakota Elder Wakiyaŋ Peta from the Wakpá Wasté Counseling Center offered prayers and songs; as well as thoughts from his own personal journey which “gave us strength and encouragement,” said Thomas. He also discussed the warning signs of suicide and instructed, “It’s not for us to ask why (someone dies by suicide).”

Staff of the Sacred Heart Center donated the funds for the meal following the prayer vigil from their own personal resources. Staff members include: June Hollow Horn (Lead Advocate), Eunice Guardipee (Outreach Advocate), Katrina Longbrake (Sexual Assault Coordinator/Advocate), Thomas, and advocates Evvi Condon, Krystal Bring Plenty, Taryn Uses the Knife and Beth Ducheneaux.

Thomas noted, “We’ve lost many community members to suicide. …Every woman in a situation of being abused or with a history of sexual assault is at higher risk for suicide.” Her comments echo data from NAMI.

The U.S. suicide rate is up 33% percent since 1999. But according to an analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, the increase is even greater for American Indian and Alaska Native women and men: 139% and 71%, respectively.

The Native youth suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the overall national average, making these rates the highest across all ethnic and racial groups. 

Cultural disconnection, alienation, and pressure to assimilate all contribute to higher rates of suicide among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Eagle Chasing’s perception that it would help if people felt more comfortable talking about suicide is in sync with guidance from the National Indian Council on Aging, Inc. (NICOA). They say people at risk for suicide often don’t get the mental health services they need because they don’t know where to start.

NICOA suggests, “Talk to your primary care doctor or another health professional about mental health problems. Ask them to connect you with the right mental health services.”

NICOA also suggests, “If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline via 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or live online chat. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your confidential, toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referral.”

According to NAMI, “If you are uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988lifeline.org. You can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *