WASHINGTON—Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today re-introduced the bipartisan Native American Suicide Prevention Act in the House and Senate. This legislation would help address the alarming suicide rate in Native communities by requiring collaboration among states and tribal nations in the design and implementation of statewide suicide intervention and prevention strategies.
Representative Grijalva first introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives in 2013.
“Uplifting the voices of Native peoples and tribal governments is critical to forming culturally appropriate solutions to tackle the suicide epidemic plaguing Native American reservations,” said Rep. Grijalva. “This bill will begin a process of inclusion and should be coupled with addressing the economic insecurity, high unemployment rates, and limited access to quality healthcare that cause underlying issues of injustice and hardship faced by tribal communities. I look forward to empowering tribes and helping them implement solutions with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to ensure that no family endures the trauma or losing a loved one to suicide.”
“Each tribal nation understands how to best serve their respective communities and should be part of any conversation that affects the livelihood and wellbeing of their people,” said Senator Warren. “This bipartisan legislation is a necessary step in ensuring that tribal nations are heard and empowered to create suicide prevention programs tailored to the needs of their tribal communities.”
“Alaska consistently tops the charts with some of the highest suicide rates in the country, with a disproportionately high rate in Native communities. When someone takes their own life, families and often entire communities are impacted by the shock and grief that follows,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m proud to introduce the Native American Suicide Prevention Act, alongside Senator Warren and many other Senate colleagues, to ensure Alaska Native communities have a voice in developing and implementing culturally relevant suicide prevention and intervention strategies. Our goal is to save lives and to give hope and support to so many Alaskans in need.”
“The chilling rate at which Native Americans are lost to suicide calls for urgent action,” said Rep. Cole. “In response to this public health crisis preying on young Native Americans, I am proud to reintroduce commonsense legislation that seeks to change the troubling current reality. With access to the right tools in tribal communities, I believe intervention can happen sooner and precious lives can be saved.”
The suicide epidemic on Native American reservations continues to reach crisis levels. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native people ages 10-34. For American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 15-34, the suicide rate is 1.5 times higher than the national average. In some tribal communities, the youth suicide rate is 10 times greater than the national average.
Despite the devastating scope of this crisis and the clear need for Native communities’ involvement in the development of suicide prevention strategies, tribal nations and tribal organizations are too often left out of planning and execution of statewide suicide prevention programs.
The Native American Suicide Prevention Act would help address this epidemic by ensuring that in carrying out existing Public Health Service Act programs, states or state-designated entities are required to collaborate with each federally recognized tribal nation, tribal organization, urban Indian organization, and Native Hawaiian health care system in the state in developing and implementing statewide suicide early intervention and prevention strategies.
Supporters of the Native American Suicide Prevention Act include the National Indian Health Board, the National Council of Urban Indian Health, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the Alaska Native Health Board, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Papa Ola L?kahi, the Association For Behavioral Healthcare, and the Pueblo of Zuni.
Last year, Senator Warren and Rep. Grijalva co-authored an op-ed for Indianz.com on the importance of empowering tribal communities in addressing the suicide crisis. “Some tribes and Native organizations have successfully developed specialized programs to serve their communities, including the incorporation of Native culture and traditions,” they wrote. “Under our legislation, culturally competent programs would be encouraged, explored, supported, and applied broadly to help save more lives—both on and off the reservation.”
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