More than 200 teenagers and pre-teens living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota have planned, attempted, or died by suicide between December 2014 and March of this year, and now religious leaders are getting involved, claiming that there's a spiritual battle that needs to be fought and won in order to save their youth.
"This is beyond anything we've ever seen; it's almost like 'serial suicides.' This is not just a psychological issue: this is a spiritual battle with spiritual forces. The thief — speaking of the devil — 'comes to steal, kill, and destroy,' and this is the result," Ron Hutchcraft of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, told Mission Network News.
Hutchcraft is calling on Christians both in South Dakota and across the country to come together to help the at-risk teenagers as Christian leaders are gathering with leaders on the reservation to mobilize prayer warriors.
"Somewhere 23 years ago God really opened my eyes and broke my heart, and gave me a plan: Use Native American youth as the messengers," Hutchcraft told The Christian Post on Tuesday. "And God has used that in just awesome ways. They do the work. I simply pray."
The Pine Ridge Reservation is home to several groups of Native Americans, including Oglala Lakota Sioux people. The site is where the massacre of Wounded Knee took place, and after that, more massacres led to further deaths. It has often contributed to a sense of loss and mourning for the people who now reside there, and there's a great deal of spiritual activity on the reservation and reservations across the country.
"They [Native Americans] call them the shadow people or the dark people. There are spiritual beings — demonic beings — that are stalking the reservation and convincing young people that they are worth nothing … and [they have] started this 'cloud of death' over the reservation."
Ted Hamilton, superintendent of the Red Cloud Indian School, a Jesuit school on the reservation, told The New York Times that children on reservations face exceptionally hard times and challenges. There's the high rate of alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, and an increased sense of peer pressure. While there is governmental assistance available, there is just not enough to go around, which contributes to the problem.
It's "an incredibly sad situation," said Ron Cornelius, the Great Plains director of the Indian Health Service. "IHS is committed to working with the tribe to address this heartbreaking problem."
"The federal government has dropped the ball in terms of mental health resources," Hamilton countered. "The system is overwhelmed. No matter which reservation you go to, that's what you'll find."
In order to help combat the increase in teen suicides, religious leaders are coming together with tribal leaders to provide assistance, spiritual guidance, and support for the teens. For its part, Hutchcraft is sending 20 Native American youth to Pine Ridge in order to share their stories of hope in Jesus Christ, which is part of its larger Summer of Hope outreach program.
On Eagles' Wings works across the country using "live events, stirring media, and relationships" to encourage youth and teach them about Christ. It has been active for over 20 years and will continue as long as there is need.
"We really need the prayer of God's people for this, because this is not just a psychological issue: this is a spiritual battle with spiritual forces. There's not going to be any way to win this battle on the ground unless it's first won in the heavenlies," Hutchcraft explained.
"In our culture, Lord, the children are sacred," said Norma Blacksmith, whose grandson died by suicide several years ago. "We thank you that there have been no suicides in this last week. You answered our prayer," she said at a gathering of clergy and tribal elders at the Pine Ridge Gospel Fellowship Church.