"When they don't see us, we don't exist." - Crystal Echo Hawk, Illuminative
KNOW THE FACTS
Indigenous youth worldwide are currently experiencing a serious mental health crisis.
Native and Indigenous youth are roughly 4 times more likely to commit suicide, yet they have the lowest number of mental health providers available to them.
The US government is responsible for providing adequate mental healthcare for Native Americans, through Treaty agreements. However, the U.S. spends twice as much money on healthcare (per person) for convicted criminals in prisons, than it does for Native Americans.
The Indian Health Service (IHS), the Federal agency responsible for healthcare services for Native Americans, operates healthcare facilities on Tribal lands that are extremely understaffed and have been sanctioned for dangerous, faulty care, leaving patients without services required by law.
Many reservations have declared National State of Emergencies for suicide, because of a lack of Behavioral Health personal at their government-run hospitals.
Despite an ongoing suicide crisis, the IHS hospital in Pine Ridge only allows 4 patients per MONTH for Psychiatry. * The average Psychiatrist in the U.S. sees between 18-25 patients per DAY.
*Reclaiming Native Truth Extensive Research Study 2018
'People ARE DYING HERE': Federal Hospitals Fail Tribes
- Wall Street Journal
Christopher Weaver, WSJ
Our film production team conducted interviews with several journalists who have dedicated years to researching healthcare issues pertaining to Native Americans. One notable journalist, Christopher Weaver from The Wall Street Journal, willingly participated in our film, generously sharing his experiences and findings regarding the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the significant problems plaguing this federal agency.
In a powerful collaboration, Weaver at The Wall Street Journal and Frontline (PBS) joined forces to create an investigative documentary that exposes a disturbing incident involving the IHS. The documentary sheds light on how the agency knowingly transferred a pedophile to Pine Ridge Hospital, where he was later convicted of multiple counts of child abuse. Shockingly, the IHS went to great lengths to silence whistleblowers and hide their records from public scrutiny.
During the filming of 'The Bears on Pine Ridge,' the IHS was hesitant to engage with journalists and our film crew due to the intense backlash following the incident. Consequently, we reached out to journalists like Weaver and also had the opportunity to interview Charlie Sitting Bull, the former director of the Pine Ridge Hospital's Behavioral Health Center, after his retirement.
'IHS Headquarters told me not to talk to the Tribe...I couldn't tell them our suicide rates were higher'
- Charlie Sitting Bull
During a comprehensive three-day interview with Charlie Sitting Bull, the former director of Behavioral Health at Pine Ridge Hospital, a startling expose unfolded, shedding light on a culture of suppression within the Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital and an alarming issue with funding.
Sitting Bull courageously unveiled a disconcerting reality where voices were silenced within the IHS hospital, highlighting the pervasive nature of this problem. Most notably, he revealed a staggering revelation about the lack of mental health professionals. Despite his persistent efforts to secure a psychiatrist for the department, the position remained vacant for an astonishing four years. Consequently, only a meager four patients per month were able to access psychotropic medication, severely limiting the scope of mental health support provided.
In a truly shocking admission, Sitting Bull disclosed that IHS headquarters in Washington DC explicitly instructed him to cease sending suicide data and reports. Furthermore, he was prohibited from engaging in discussions with Tribal representatives regarding the vital data he had collected. This revelation underscores a concerning trend of suppressing critical information and hindering necessary dialogue within the IHS system.
Raising awareness about critical issues such as Native mental healthcare and Indigenous suicide rates holds significant importance. Why? Without concerted efforts to bring knowledge and exert pressure on Congressional representatives, government-run agencies like the Indian Health Service (IHS) will persist in being underfunded and neglecting Native communities like Pine Ridge. Despite the escalating crisis, government policies and federal funding allocated to address these pressing issues have remained woefully inadequate.
It falls upon all of us to persist in spreading awareness, amplifying the collective voice that demands action. State and Federal Governments, lacking motivation, have failed to implement comprehensive, long-term plans or allocate sufficient funding toward Native mental health initiatives. By continuing to shine a spotlight on these issues, we can foster a broader dialogue and inspire the necessary changes that these communities urgently require.