Documentary aims to bring awareness to youth suicide crisis on Pine Ridge

Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 6:17 PM CST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - In August 2020, then-President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Julian Bear Runner declared a state of emergency on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in response to an increase in youth suicides.

This declaration was no the first of its kind-- it is a problem affecting Native American communities across the country.

A group of filmmakers made a documentary to help raise awareness on this serious issue.

“The Bears of Pine Ridge” will hit the big screens, to tell the story of this Native American community, dealing with one of the highest suicide rates in the United States.

The 39-minute film will premiere at the upcoming Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana.

“As a Native person, it’s important for me to be able to shed light on a very dark subject, being child suicide,” said Sonny Skyhawk, the executive producer of “The Bears on Pine Ridge.” “There is no question for me as why we should do this. But, we’re looking for a national platform in order to make people aware of this subject, the fact it exists. These are our young and future members of our peoples.”

The film begins in 2015, shortly after the first state of emergency. Skyhawk said part of the current issue is pandemic-related and the film aims to raise awareness.

“It’s something that people just can’t imagine,” said Skyhawk. “They think it’s an adult issue or an adult dilemma, but it really isn’t. It’s a children’s issue also because why would they want to do something like that.”

The film’s director hopes to evoke an emotional response.

“They’re trying to open up a discussion, a communication, a national awareness so that all of Americans can get involved, and that just happened,” said Noel Bass, the director of “The Bears on Pine Ridge.”

Skyhawk and Bass said the filmmakers collaborated with suicide prevention specialists, Tiny Decory, Oglala Sioux Tribe police, the now-defunct Sweetgrass Foundation, youth who survived, EMTs, tribal elders, and multiple OST presidents to tell this story.

Skyhawk and Bass said the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival was intentionally selected because it is a prestigious festival, as well as close to another reservation.

“The states of emergencies aren’t getting the national attention that they deserve and so, seeking out festivals that are near Native reservations is an opportunity to collaborate with those tribes to try to get the message out,” said Bass.

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