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THE BEARS

“In the Lakota language, Bear or ‘Matho’, means good medicine… the BEAR Program brings that good medicine. It’s the young people that are instilling hope.”

 

- Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, BEAR Program Founder

Eileen Janis 

Bear Program, Supervisor

Leader in Suicide Prevention for OST

Yvonne "Tiny" DeCory 

Bear Program, Founder

Leader in Suicide Prevention for OST

     “Tiny" DeCory and Eileen Janis are the lead suicide outreach workers on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  In addition to outreach, the duo run a unique non-profit organization called The BEAR program, created by Tiny in 2004 as a literacy program (Be Excited About Reading).  Big colorful animal mascot outfits were brought in to the program to excite the children and influence them to want to read. In 2009 when the youth suicide rate began to grow out of control, the Tribe declared it's first State of Emergency. The Bear Program then shifted it's focus to become a suicide awareness program, recruiting young survivors into the program to try to connect with other struggling youth in the community. Over the years, the program became more dynamic, involving musical numbers and theatrical skits that related to the many issues happening on the reservation, including bullying, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol use, as well as suicide awareness. However, the bright spirit of the animal mascot costumes remained a part of the performances, splitting the entire performance into two sections: Joyful dancing performances with comedic sketches, to then a more serious tone of awareness.  

Hope

Bringing Hope and Joy To The Community

THE BEAR PROGRAM: and the youth involved within the program are a central subject to this film. This youth based one-of-a-kind performance group is made up of a cast of suicide-survivor teenagers. It's truly a powerful story and an inspirational lift in the film, as the Bears help lift spirits during a crisis. As animal mascots, the Bears are able to take on a more confident character and interact with the community in a proactive light. The BEAR Program gives an opportunity for these once fragile teenagers to not only build confidence but to give back to other youth who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. They embody perseverance, joy, hope, humor, and a coming-of-age story arc. 

 

On Pine Ridge, there are no movie theaters or arcades, no venues for dancing or music concerts or theatrical performances. The closest mall is a 90-minute drive away. So when the “Bears” come to perform at local schools on the reservation, there is an overwhelming excitement from the young spectators. The performances are loud and meant to bring the youth out of their seats, blaring full of modern day pop music. A typical performance is full of dancing intertwined with comedic skits played out by the mascots. It’s a true treat for the children on the reservation. At one point during the performance, Tiny invites the children to get up to join the Bears for a few dances. The entire basketball gym full of kids joins the Bears, dancing with joy, running up to give a hug to each animal.

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Courage

“Every child has a story to tell...the POWER is in their voice.”

- Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, BEAR Program Founder

The Courage To Speak Up To Effectuate Change 

Underneath the costumes are a group of suicide-survivor teenagers, most of whom continue to battle depression on a day-to-day basis, many having survived several suicide attempts in their young lives. Many of these BEAR youth have been personally saved by Tiny and Eileen. In some cases Tiny was the person to take the rope off of their necks or the razor from their hands. These youth have now banded together to help their community by addressing bullying, peer-pressure, and signs of suicide. They are part of a unique club, or a "family" that understands and supports one another.

Tyrell, 15, takes off his large animal costume to speak to a young crowd about his struggles with suicide. He delivers a powerfully intimate speech about being bullied and his self-esteem issues. He is courageously candid to where this level of honesty sets a tone in the air for conversation. It is powerful and raw. In the film, Tyrell talks emotionally to a crowd about an attempt during a quick story sequence, showcasing the positive arc that Tyrell has made since he was a fragile and bullied 10 year old child. As a "Bear", Tyrell has grown into a more confident 15 year old who is eager to help others.

The Bear Program encourages youth to speak out, to connect with others who may be silently holding in their pain. Tiny DeCory believes it's the youth who can't talk about their issues who slip through the cracks.

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(top) Tyrell speaks about his personal struggles, (bottom) Tyrell holding a Bear costume