A very special event was held last week in the Spirit Lake Nation in honor of September’s designation as Suicide Prevention Month.

A very special event was held last week in the Spirit Lake Nation in honor of September’s designation as Suicide Prevention Month.

Hundreds of teens and adults gathered on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. at the Blue Building to walk in solidarity from there to Cankdeska Cikana Community College.

First they passed around the smudge, like incense, to bless their efforts in prayer. Many wore t-shirts with the message “Spirit Lake Suicide Prevention Walk 2018 - There is more to my story - Native Connections, MSPI and Spirit Lake Tribal Health.”

A pickup truck bearing a drum group from Spirit Lake singing and drumming led the procession that wound through the Fort Totten community, past the State Historic Site and the back way into the CCCC campus.

The event was organized by Alice Bird Horse-Thompson who is the director for Native Connections. Native Connections Native Connections is funded by a grant from SAMHSA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Congress established SAMHSA in 1992 to make substance use and mental disorder information, services and research more accessible. SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.

The funding for Spirit Lake’s efforts is a five-year grant from SAMHSA and this year is the third year of that grant period, Bird Horse-Thompson explained. She was hired recently, at the end of August, by the Spirit Lake Tribe to head up efforts to combat suicide on the reservation. “I’m so grateful to the tribe for believing in this program and giving me this opportunity to help with this very important issue,” she said.

It is a situation that has touched everyone in one way or another throughout the Lake Region, she continued, recalling the losses of two young girls in recent months. Bird Horse-Thompson says it is a complicated issue and there are no simple answers, but she and those who work with her to combat suicide and suicide ideation have found that at the basis of their work is reaching out, listening, helping youth know they do have a purpose, a future, a family, culture and a higher power - that all of life is connected.

“We are doing this for the young and with them, working together,” Bird Horse-Thompson said. They have a vision and have established goals and objectives for this year - all of them attainable. They are helping teens and those even younger than their teens learn coping skills, no matter what their circumstances.

“Getting in touch with a higher power is essential to dealing with whatever these young ones have to face day after day,” she adds.

For the months ahead, there will be activities planned to foster opportunities for young people to talk about how they deal with things, how they cope. For October they are planning events around Halloween. In November, Native American Heritage Month, they are planning a gathering of clergy and traditional Native leaders to facilitate healing: Healing Trauma through Traditional and Spiritual Beliefs. Bird Horse Thompson says they will be closing this gathering by hosting a sweat and ceremony at its end. For December they also will be planning events to coincide with Christmas, the end of the year, and the beginning of a new year.