Lakota Voice Project

In Agency News, Integrated Campaign on October 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Message, a Rapid City marketing and communications firm, was humbled to be part of the 2012 AAF-Black Hills Public Service campaign. The project was unique in the fact that Black Hills advertising industry professionals worked alongside Oglala Lakota College students to launch a traditional advertising and social media campaign to fight the epidemic of youth suicide on the Pine Ridge Reservation by asking one question: What does hope look like to you?

From an advertising perspective, we believed typical anti-suicide messaging wouldn’t validate the conditions causing suicide among Lakota youth. Furthermore, the people creating the ads are considered outsiders who will never truly understand the audience, and the ads would not feel authentic.

The teenage suicide rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is 150 percent higher than the national average. Children as young as 6 have attempted to take their own lives. In 2009, the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe declared a suicide state of emergency. The emergency still exists today.

Against this stark backdrop, we developed an approach that tackled the project from two sides: We passed out 200 disposable cameras to elementary and middle school students across the reservation. There were no rules about what to take photos of or what’s appropriate. The only direction that came with the camera was a question: What does hope look like to you? We then took that message to the Lakota people through traditional advertising and social media prominently displaying the images and giving a voice to Lakota youth.

The answer could come in the form of a meadowlark, a mountain, a sunset, or a grandparent. Of the thousands of photos that were shot, we’d utilize the most powerful ones to be made into billboards, posters, and wild postings. TV and radio PSAs featured Lakota youth asking that they document what hope looked like to them. Lastly, we created a popup art gallery of the nearly 2,000 photos collected from the project. The exhibit will travel across South Dakota and beyond to deliver a message of hope and optimism, that contrary to mainstream perspective, is alive and well on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The exhibit tour will begin in conjunction with the annual Lakota Nation Invitational in Rapid City and run through December 31. The Dahl Arts Center will host a gallery reception on Friday, December 14, from 5:00pm-8:00pm.

Media coverage also played a huge role in generating awareness and online virality for the project. Below are links to just a few of those stories:

South Dakota Public Broadcasting Dakota Digest Segment

Argus Leader feature

KEVN Black Hills Fox feature

A Collection of Student Photos

Billboards, Posters and Wild Postings


This video doesn’t exist

Radio PSA

Time Lapse of the Art Gallery Installation

This video doesn’t exist

Pte San Win on Hope

This video doesn’t exist

  1. Love this approach. Inspirational without being exploitative. Great big picture thinking!

  2. Very nice installation. Let me know what is next.

    • Hi Linda,

      The art installation will be shown in the Dahl Arts Center on Dec. 14 (Opening) – Dec. 31.
      We could probably use a hand installing this if you are interested. Thanks for all your help
      on this!

  3. Hope is such a beautiful thing, what a great project!

  4. Thanks for checking it out Judy! I hope you are well!

  5. […] does hope look like to you?  This collection of nearly 2,000 photos figured prominently in a suicide awareness campaign that launched on the reservation in the […]

  6. I am amazed at the feeling i get from seeing this Lakota Voice Project shine light in a postive way on the situation of confronting the suicide rate on the reservation. I feel humbled to see the hope that the project has invested. Especially for the lakota youth. I can feel that just the fact that there is an caring organized collection of minds present, will make a dramatic difference for the ones who feel the pains for those who suffer silently. And will hopefully provide creative avenues to those seeking postive creation. God bless you all

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: