PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION, S.D. — A few days before Christmas, Santana Janis, a 12-year-old Lakota Indian, decided that she did not want to live anymore.
A bright, outgoing girl with a shy smile and passion for horseback riding, Santana’s moods had turned dark. She lived in a derelict two-bedroom trailer with a grandfather, Earl Tall, and as many as a dozen siblings and cousins. Her mother, an alcoholic, was an intermittent presence in her life. Their town, Manderson, was torn by drinking, fighting and violence.
Mr. Tall overheard his granddaughter’s talk of suicide and called her other grandfather, Keith Janis, who immediately drove 40 miles to see her. “I sat down with her and said, ‘Please, promise Grandpa you’ll never do that,’ ” Mr. Janis recalled last week. “She gave me that big, beautiful smile of hers and said, ‘O.K., Grandpa, O.K.’ ”
Six weeks later, Santana hanged herself in a small, unheated building next to the trailer.