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Article by Jay Tavere
American Indian teens take their own lives at more than two times the rate of any other teen demographic in the USA, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of course, these numbers are just averages, so on certain reservations the suicide rate is exponentially higher. But calculating the numbers is easy. It’s the reasons that are harder to fathom.
Most are kids who do not have drugs or alcohol problems. Many come from financially comfortable families, by Native American standards. And most don’t leave a suicide note, so their loved ones suffer the pain of regrets and self blame without the relief of being able to know the true reasons.
Imagine a 14-year-old girl coming home from school and after putting her books away, hanging herself. Shocking, I know, but this is what had become commonplace on the Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico (map). In 2009, they faced a true state of emergency when four teens committed suicide and one attempted suicide in the space of just two months[…]
For some reason the truth about this crisis is seldom publicized by the mainstream media. Maybe we find it comfortable to believe that problems on the reservation are the same as ours in the mainstream. But the situation is more complicated than that.
The American Indian nations are proud and independent people. They’re not helpless and they’re not seeking outside assistance. In fact — and this is something we must take to heart in order to truly understand — historical evidence strongly suggests that it’s outside “help,” in the form of European colonialism and religious missionary movements, that created this problem in the first place.
For centuries, American Indian culture has been attacked and exploited by our new dominant culture. Traditions, language and spiritual beliefs of so many of the American Indian nations are almost completely extinguished. Is it any wonder that the youth find themselves in an identity crisis?
Hearing all this, it’s natural we want to help. But real healing has to come from within the Indian community. What we can do is become educated and empathetic. We can help by learning about and respectfully supporting programs founded by and for Indians on the reservations.
The Mescalero Apache reservation has created their own suicide prevention youth program, Honor Your Life, headed by coordinator Jeremiah Simmons. And the recent news are encouraging: In 2010 there were no teen suicides on the Mescalero Apache reservation. Although kids still talked about taking their own lives, they didn’t go through with it.
Janice Merino — who happens to be a direct descendant of Cochise and a beautiful generous soul whom I cherish dearly — is a suicide prevention specialist for the Honor Your Life program[…]
Obviously, the greater crisis still looms, not just on the Mescalero Apache reservation, but over all of Indian country. Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Sioux reservation of South Dakota is another tragic example, with a suicide rate more than three times the average for the rest of the nation.
There are too many stories like these. But by learning the facts, remembering them and sharing them with others, you’re a vital part of what happens next. The shift is coming!
As the Apache say: G’u Z’u D’alsh (“Let all good things happen!”)
(Source: The Huffington Post)