BIA declares Hope for Life Day to raise awareness about suicide

Young members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe carried posters with messages about suicide during an awareness walk in Parmelee, South Dakota, in June. Photo by Vi Waln / Lakota Country Times

The head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is hoping to raise awareness of suicide in Indian Country.

The suicide rate among American Indians ages 15 to 34 is 2.5 times higher than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the also second leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 15 to 34.

"Suicide wounds every person, family and community it touches,” Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said in a press release. “Native communities suffer from a suicide rate that is more than twice the national average. There is no greater tragedy in Indian Country."

To bring attention to the issue, Washburn declared September 10 as Hope for Life Day, to be held in conjunction with World Suicide Day. It's part of a new effort from the A National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, a public-private partnership that includes the Indian Health Service.

“Suicide prevention depends on bringing together native communities, as Hope for Life Day will do," IHS Director Robert G. McSwain, who serves as public sector co-lead of the alliance's American Indian and Alaska Native task force, said in a press release. "IHS works with partners to create a safety net of services to protect individuals against suicide risk and maximize the effectiveness of programs."

The alliance's task force created a Hope for Life Toolkit to help generate action in Indian Country. It offers community engagement strategies, tips for meeting with tribal leaders, promotional materials and suggestions for cultural activities to help health professionals and grassroots organizers in Indian Country.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates Suicide Awareness Message

Tribal leaders are indeed hearing the message. Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said he's been "saddened" by a series of recent suicides and among youth on the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation. There's also been at least one attempt in the area.

In a public service announcement airing on radio stations on and near the reservation, he said tribal members must overcome a cultural taboo against speaking about death.

"I understand that many are hesitant to discuss suicide and death," Bates said. "However, there's a tremendous need to bring this issue to the forefront in order to help our Dine youth."

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