PINE RIDGE, S.D. – Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory was out until 3 a.m. on a rainy morning in July counseling a young woman.
“I had a girl last night, she cut her arms pretty good,” DeCory said. “She just didn’t want to live.”
DeCory runs a youth support organization in the heart of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
“My everyday is keeping kids alive,” she said. “I tell them, ‘Your struggle is real, but we can deal with it.’”
The village of Pine Ridge is quiet, the roads muddy, and most of the activity takes place around the gas station at the town’s main intersection and the health center.
“Look around here, there’s a lot of poverty. And now we’re back at No. 1,” DeCory said, referring to the latest poverty rankings. “I’m not proud about that.” Oglala Lakota County, which makes up most of the reservation, was the poorest county in the country, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
The poverty level is just one of the factors connected to the reservation’s high number of youth suicides, according to experts.
The crisis here has been written about for years, and DeCory said journalists routinely contact her about visiting the reservation.
But she said there’s no point in drawing more attention to the issue from outsiders who parachute in to report on tragedy. Today, she wants to talk about voting.
“It’s tough living here for these kids, and they see that,” she said. “But there’s hope. There’s really a lot of good here.”
DeCory views voting as important and empowering for Native American youth. Turning 18 and being able to cast a ballot is a major milestone for them.
“I can’t wait until they’re 18,” she said. “We want them to get out there.”
“If everybody gets out there to vote, we can be the deciding factor,” DeCory said. She explained that the population of Pine Ridge is young and convincing young people of the importance of voting is sorely needed.
“I want you to register, and I want you to exercise your vote. No one can take that away from you.”
Come back Aug. 20 to see the full News21 report on “Voting Wars.”