Many of the difficulties that the modern day Lakota deal with – like suicide, alcoholism, poverty, and teen pregnancy – are not inherently part of Lakota culture. They are the terrible by-products of colonization, oppression, and genocide. Our work is to support the people and programs that not only help the youth to survive – but to thrive. A key part of that process is to help the youth strengthen their cultural identities so they can turn to their traditions to tackle the difficult issues they face.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located in one of the poorest counties in the United States. With the unemployment rate soaring towards 90%, it is a Third World country in our own backyard. Many kids live in desperately impoverished conditions, over a hundred miles away from the nearest city.
The teen suicide rate on Pine Ridge has skyrocketed to staggering, epidemic proportions. In the last year alone over 25 young people took their lives. Suicide attempts averaged 150 per month and ideations were twice that. Those are just the ones we know about.
The Mitakuye Foundation was created to address this epidemic.
For a few years there was a Youth Opportunity program on Pine Ridge and during that time the suicide rates dropped to an all-time low. Due to funding shortages, that program did not last.
We saw the positive effects of the work of several community and spiritual leaders and decided that an effective use of our energy would be to work with successful models and leaders that already had a proven track record. As artists and educators we also knew the healing and transformative power of art and wanted to share that with the youth by creating original arts programming and working with local schools.
So our goals were formed: to support the work of spiritual and community leaders on the front lines helping youth to improve their lives, to create arts programming and opportunities, and to restart a new model of the reservation-wide Youth Opportunity program.
Working with local community leaders and using our combined skills as artists, educators, filmmakers, producers, and long-time friends of the Lakota, we are providing resources and creating opportunities to empower the youth. But we need your support! Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today.
Rick Gray Grass, Spiritual and Community Leader, Educator, Substance Abuse Counselor.
Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, Training Director for The SweetGrass Project, Creator and Founder of The B.E.A.R. (Be Excited About Reading) Program.
Saunie K. Wilson, Youth Advocate, Former Tribal Judge, and current Dean Of Students at Wolf Creek School.
Eileen Janis, Youth Advocate and Suicide prevention, education, and outreach provider.
Board of Directors
Jennifer Jessum, MFA, Artist, Director, Producer, Educator.
Simon J. Joseph, Ph.D., Producer, Writer, Educator.
Terry Pechota, JD, Attorney, First Lakota US Attorney, Youth Advocate.
Jillian Harris, MFA, Artist, Producer, Educator.
Stacey McKenzie, BSN, Artist, Educator, Registered Nurse.