Suicide is a chronic problem on the Pine Ridge reservation, and students of a business class on the reservation teamed up with Rapid City advertisers this spring in an effort to change that.

Karissa Eifert and Jason Alley, members of the Black Hills Advertising Federation, guided students in an introductory business class at Oglala Lakota College to create a suicide awareness campaign with the Sweetgrass Project, the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s suicide prevention program.

The suicide rate on the Pine Ridge reservation is at least one and a half times the national average, according to statistics, Eifert said.

The campaign, which will kick off at the start of the school year in the fall, will consist of posters and TV and radio ad spots to run on channels available on the reservation.

Students also will present some of their campaign work at an art show at the OLC center in Kyle during the graduation powwow June 22.

The class chose as a group the topic to promote with the semester-long advertising campaign, said Danielle Griffith, who lives in Rapid City but drove to the reservation for classes.

Griffith said several friends have committed suicide.

“We just came up with different ideas all together on the board and drew out the ideas and chose three that were the most important to us. Suicide prevention was the one that was most important to us,” she said. “It is a big issue on the reservation, and we all know that.”

In December 2009, then-OST President Theresa Two Bulls declared a state of emergency on the Pine Ridge reservation after the OST Public Safety Department responded to 96 suicides or suicide attempts over the course of 10 months.

In November 2009, the OST ambulance service responded to 17 suicide-related calls, including a Pine Ridge High School student who hanged himself.

As part of the campaign, OLC students gave disposable cameras to elementary school students with the instructions to photograph things that gave them hope. Some of the photos show other children. One photo shows some trees and a rocky overlook; one student photographed three dogs and one photographed a basketball falling into a hoop.

Eifert and Alley partnered with the class for the advertising federation’s annual public service project. The group typically creates an advertising campaign for a local business but decided this year to pair education with service and help students create their own campaign. Eifert and Alley provided some equipment, direction and expertise.

“It was great working with the class and seeing the input on what was important in their community,” Eifert said. “Ultimately, that’s what it came down to, is it was their community we were creating the campaign for.”

Contact Ruth Moon at 394-8415 or ruth.moon@rapidcityjournal.com.

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