The Bears

“In the Lakota language, Bear or ‘Mato’, means good medicine… the BEAR Program brings that good medicine. It’s the young people that are instilling hope.”

– Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, BEAR Program Founder

Bringing Hope and Joy To The Community

THE BEAR PROGRAM and the youth involved within the program, stand as a pivotal focus in ‘The Bears on Pine Ridge’ documentary. This unique, youth-led performance group comprises a resilient cast of teenage suicide survivors, offering an uplifting narrative and a source of inspiration within the film. Through their vibrant performances in colorful mascot outfits at school assemblies, the ‘Bears’ significantly boost morale across the reservation.

Assuming the roles of animal mascots allows these young individuals, who may be battling depression and other mental health challenges, to adopt a character of confidence and engage with their community in a positive and constructive manner. The BEAR Program not only fosters self-esteem among these once vulnerable teenagers but also empowers them to support other young people facing similar struggles with suicidal thoughts. They symbolize endurance, joy, hope, humor, and encapsulate a narrative of growth and maturity


“Tiny” DeCory and Eileen Janis, lead suicide prevention specialists on the Pine Ridge Reservation, founded The BEAR Program as a vital initiative to unite and support vulnerable youth. Faced with a critical shortage of mental health resources, many young individuals grappling with suicidal ideation found themselves isolated, lacking community backing. Recognizing this dire need, Tiny and Eileen developed a program designed not just to foster personal support networks but also to imbue participants with a renewed sense of purpose. By engaging these youths in meaningful community tasks, The BEAR Program has been instrumental in transitioning participants from isolation to active community involvement, demonstrating the power of connection and purpose in healing.

Breaking the Silence: Standing Up to Stigma

(Above) “Tiny” DeCory leads a BEAR Program performance for a crowd of spectators during a TEDx Rapid City event. Photo Credit: TEDx Rapid City

“Every child has a story to tell...the POWER is in their voice.”

– Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, BEAR Program Founder

Beneath their costumes, The BEAR Program’s youth show their courage to speak up to effectuate change.  These brave teenagers continue to face adversity, healing from years of struggling with mental health. Many owe their lives to Tiny and Eileen, who have intervened in moments of crisis. Together, they address bullying, peer pressure, and suicide awareness, forming a supportive “family” that understands each other’s struggles.

In a moving film scene, 15-year-old Tyrell shares his battle with suicide and bullying, shedding his mascot costume to deliver a candid speech that inspires open conversation. His transformation from a vulnerable child into a confident youth who seeks to help others is both powerful and uplifting.

The BEAR Program emphasizes the importance of speaking out and connecting with others, particularly for those silently enduring their pain. Tiny DeCory advocates for communication as a vital tool to prevent young people from slipping through the cracks, highlighting the program’s role in fostering resilience, empathy, and community support.