I’d been invited to this small community in northern Arizona because of suicide. Children were dying, by their own hands, and no one knew what to do.
It’s a community, a family really, of no more than 500. There is a health clinic, a school, a Boys and Girls club and a few other buildings in town. The Grand Canyon isn’t far and the plateaus, on early mornings, have antelope and elk and deer and coyotes.
The people organized a medicine walk. We’d gather children and visit six fire keeper homes, each with a camp fire built in their front yards. Upon arrival, the head of household said a prayer over the children, adding sage to the fire. The pungent smoke enveloped the crowd, including the visitors like me on the periphery. We waved the smoke over us, leaning one by one over the fire. We pushed the smoke over our heads and down our backs and to each corner of the sky — sending the healing smoke to the four directions.
We pushed the unhealthiness looming over this community up and out, to be floated away by a high, strong wind.
The prayers and songs reminded the children how valuable their lives are. Bullying by text is the new enemy; kids are being taunted by others. Told to kill themselves. Told they aren’t worthy.
The elders reminded them all otherwise, and that they are all family. The bullied and the bullies are one — and quite literally from one genetic pool made smaller by each death.
In addition to the traditional healing, we will add clinical and educational resources — ways shown to prevent suicide. My wish is that we can provide hope.