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Ninth Indian Male Commits Suicide On Reservation

October 1, 1985

RIVERTON, Wyo. (AP) _ For the ninth time in less than two months, a young Indian male on the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming has committed suicide, officials said Tuesday.

A 25-year-old Arapahoe man hanged himself overnight in a closet, using a drawstring from his sweatshirt, and was found Tuesday morning by his sister, Fremont County Coroner Larry Lee said.

The first suicide occurred Aug. 12. The victims range in age from 14 to 25. Eight were Arapahoe Indians and one was a Shoshone.

″It’s just a domino effect, it seems like,″ Lee said.

The coroner said he had heard suggestions the suicides might be the result of some sort of cult, but that he saw no evidence to substantiate that.

″I can tell you they were all suicidal hangings. None of them was an erotic hanging, none was accidental or homicidal,″ he said. ″We’ve had people call us from all over the nation, trying to help with this thing. But these are suicidal hangings.″

Lee said that, to his knowledge, only two of the victims left notes and neither gave an explanation for the suicide. The notes simply said the person was sorry for what he was doing or told relatives how to divide up his property, Lee said.

The name of the latest victim was being withheld until several relatives could be notified.

Since the beginning of the year, at least 48 suicide attempts have been reported on the sparsely populated, 2 million acre reservation, compared to less than 30 last year.

Dr. Brian Miracle, a clinical psychologist at the PineRidge Hospital in nearby Lander, said there is no indication of what is causing the rash of suicides and ″we don’t know where we are with the situation.″

He said there is little the hospital can do to stop suicides except treat people who are brought to the facility. ″We can treat the depression,″ he said. ″But we can’t treat people if we don’t know who they are or what’s going on.″

Miracle said the latest suicide, the second in four days, had not resulted in a significant increase in the number of people seeking treatment for depression.

He added he believes news coverage of the deaths has been a contributing factor in the continuing series of suicides.

The reservation has been taking steps to try to halt the suicides. Teachers and counselors at St. Stephens School on the reservation have been holding weekly sessions with small groups of students, trying to get them to talk about their problems and find ways of solving them.

The Wind River school board has agreed to pay for a psychologist to spend a day each week at Wind River High School to develop a suicide prevention program.

Unemployment among the reservation’s 6,000 Indians is nearly 80 percent.

St. Stephens High School guidance counselor Roena Stone says students have complained to her that they have nothing to do, that all the tribal recreation money went for bingo and they have no cars in which to go into town. There are no shopping centers or movie theaters on the reservation.

At least four of the suicides occurred while the young men were under the influence of alcohol. Studies have found 51 percent of the students have a drinking problem and 47 percent have tried drugs.

The Rev. Tony Short, a Jesuit priest at St. Stephens Mission, says the suicides and alcohol abuse are symptoms of a larger mental health problem the Indians will have to conquer themselves, with a change in attitude.

″Indians have tremendous feelings. Anyone who thinks they’re stoic is wrong,″ he said. ″They have a lot of feelings that they keep inside and are not dealing with. People think liquor can loosen them up. But the problem is alcohol is not neutral.″

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