Suicide Prevention Network’s Billyhawk Enos makes waves in Washiw community |

Suicide Prevention Network’s Billyhawk Enos makes waves in Washiw community

Claire Cudahy
Billyhawk Enos, Suicide Prevention Network youth outreach coordinator in Dresslerville, poses for a photo with Robert Johnston from Native Wellness.
Provided / Billyhawk Enos

GARDNERVILLE, Nev. — On any given day, it’s not uncommon to find Billyhawk Enos at the bus stop in Dresslerville striking up conversations with kids. “There are so many people talking at them or down to them. I go out and chase them down and just see how they are doing,” said Enos.

A year ago, the Suicide Prevention Network, a nonprofit in Carson Valley, received a grant and hired Enos as a youth outreach coordinator for the Washiw community.

Following the suicide of a 13-year-old student in 1998, Suicide Prevention Network was formed to spread awareness in the region through education, intervention and support.

Every Tuesday Enos hosts a talking circle for the youth where he teaches them life skills, traditional activities and takes them on field trips.

“The kids we have down here are dealing with intergenerational trauma, and a lot of them come from broken homes,” said Enos. “It takes a while for them to see the big picture of why it’s like this so they don’t have to keep buying into that bad stuff. We’ve got new tools, so try these new tools and keep on living. It’s the only choice we can choose — to live.”

In the weekly talking circle, Enos works on getting the youth to open up and discuss new ways they can deal with their emotions and difficult situations. The kids are often referred to the group by counselors, teachers, or probation officers — or convinced by Enos to come try it out.

“We come in and talk about different life skills, go over their days and their stories,” said Enos. “It’s about listening to your brother, your cousin or your neighbor and letting them know that it’s OK to feel the way you feel. We’re so ingrained in responding to everything, why don’t we sit down and listen? The way we act on it is what can get us in trouble.”

Suicide has continued to be an issue in communities across the state.

Nevada ranks 5th in the country for suicides, according to a 2016 report from the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office. Further, Native American youth have one of the highest rates of suicide, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“Everybody out here has been touched by suicide in one way or another. Somebody in their family, one of their close friends or someone in the community. It’s a big issue out here that nobody wants to talk about,” said Enos.

And that’s the biggest hurdle standing in the way of addressing it, he says.

“We’ve got to get rid of the stigma. I think the adults are seeing the kids start to be more open about it, and that is helping,” noted Enos.

Enos’ work has earned him the respect of many members of the community, including Herman Fillmore, Culture/Language Resources Director for the Washoe Tribe.

“The work that Billy is doing in community is incredibly important because of the way in which he values every member of our Tribe from our youngest children all the way to our eldest elders,” said Fillmore. “He is there to work with our youth as an uncle, a brother, a nephew, a father and looks at each of these children and elders as his own.”

Fillmore recalls a time that he and Enos were asked by a probation officer to try and get through to a group of young men that had run into trouble. The pair recognized that getting them to open up would be difficult, so they took them out to the Pinenut Hills.

“Billy never looked at the boys as the root of the issue. He talked to them as if they had lost their way, but never accused them, only reminding them of what it means to be Washiw. Reminding them that in our ways, even if they did not want to talk to him or anyone else, that they could always pray and in that way they could ask for help, forgiveness, guidance, and that he would be there for them if and when he was needed,” said Fillmore.

“He reminded them that there was no need to try and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders or try to fix everything by themselves; that it is not weakness to ask for help. That they have access to our medicines and that when we come together in ceremony that we speak good things into existence through our thoughts, our words, our actions.”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Enos’ weekly talk circles are held every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Dresslerville Gym. You can reach him at 775-783-1510. O