Declaration of State of Emergency of Suicides on the Pine Ridge Reservation

On August 22nd, President Julian Bear Runner of the Oglala Sioux Tribe declared a state of emergency on the Pine Ridge Reservation after a recent increase in suicides.

I have been studying the effects of intergenerational trauma, especially that related to taking native children from their families. For forced assimilation into White culture. This is one of the reasons for suicides, even today, as discussed below. This shows it is so important to continue to work toward healing from this trauma.

Tribal Law and Order Reauthorization Act

The Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), which became law in 2010, restored jurisdiction for tribal police and courts over certain crimes on Indian lands, and established a measure of accountability and transparency for the federal Department of Justice in dealing with tribal justice authorities. A precursor to the 2013 amendments to the Violence Against Women Act, the 2010 TLOA affirmed that tribal police and courts could arrest any individual for crimes committed on Indian lands, and upon conviction, tribal courts could impose sentences of up to three years.

Senator Hoeven, as chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has introduced S. 1953, the Tribal Law and Order Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2017, to amend and continue the 2010 law.

The TLOA Reauthorization bill focuses in on Native youth. The bill directs the Departments of the Interior and Justice, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to coordinate with and assist tribes in addressing juvenile offenses in Indian Country, and to consult with tribes on delinquency prevention. It also directs these agencies to find a way to notify tribes when a tribal youth comes in contact with federal, state, and other local juvenile justice systems. Finally, the bill directs the collection of information on Native youth, and research on topics including drug use and available services.

The bill’s attention to this concern is timely, given the increasingly disproportionate incarceration rate of Native youth – which nationally is more three times the rate for white youth, according to a recent report of the Sentencing Project.

Congressional attention to Native youth in the criminal justice system also intersects with a time when suicide is increasingly common among Native youth. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs convened a hearing on this topic in 2015, the seventh such hearing in ten years, noting that suicide was 2 ½ times as common among Native youth as among white youth. At the junction of the two sets of numbers – incarceration rates and suicide rates — are questions that need to be shouted out: questions about loss of hope and loss of opportunity for too many Native youth.

Justice and Violence in Indian Country. Looking for Answers to Human Trafficking, Friends Committee on National Legislation. October 24, 2017

According to, the bill, which is now S.210, has been introduced in the Senate.

S.210 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)Tribal Law and Order Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2019Sponsor:Sen. Hoeven, John [R-ND] (Introduced 01/24/2019) Cosponsors: (4)Committees: Senate – Indian AffairsCommittee Reports:S. Rept. 116-37Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2019 Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders.


PINE RIDGE, S.D. — President Julian Bear Runner of the Oglala Sioux Tribe declared a state of emergency on the Pine Ridge Reservation after a recent increase in suicides, attempts, and threats relative to years of high rates of suicides in the community.

The Pine Ridge Reservation has seen an increase in suicides over the last few weeks by younger people, with four in the last two weeks. According to the Oglala Sioux Tribe Suicide Prevention program, between January 1 and August 17, there have been nine suicides among youth and adults aged 14 to 32.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety reports 177 total suicides attempts and 168 suicide threats since the beginning of the year.

In regards to mandated solitude, Bear Runner says he understands and has experienced the struggle as he was recently released from a month-long suspension and 14-day quarantine.

“During that time, it was mentally challenging, and I experienced something I hadn’t experienced in a long time,” said President Bear Runner. “It was very trying and it was very hard mentally to separate yourself from society and from your family and to seclude yourself.” said President Julian Bear Runner, Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Oglala Sioux Tribe president declares state of emergency in response to recent suicides. NewsCenter1 Staff, August 24, 2020

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