Suicide rates for Native American youth are four times higher than that of any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. In the past decade, these rates have only increased. At a recent Clayman Institute Faculty Research Fellows talk, Teresa LaFromboise (Miami Nation) drew upon her lifelong work in Native American youth suicide intervention to discuss cultural and contextual considerations for Native American youth suicide prevention. What LaFromboise demonstrated is that the most powerful sources of healing for Native youth are located within Native communities themselves, through the development of community-based, culturally specific, and culturally focused mental health programming.
LaFromboise associates this rise in suicide rates with a preponderance of re-traumatizing current events pertaining to colonial violence. For example, 2021 saw the launch of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, marking the first time in U.S. history that the federal government has officially acknowledged its operation of 408 boarding schools from 1819 – 1969, which forcibly removed and disappeared tens of thousands of Indigenous children from their families and communities.
Given the magnitude of such historical and ongoing violence aimed at the eradication of Indigenous communities and cultures, perhaps it may come as no surprise, then, that the approaches LaFromboise has witnessed to have had the most significantly positive impact on Native American youth suicide prevention are those that emphasize enculturation, or what she calls “culture as prevention.” Examples of culture as prevention include teaching Native youth their languages, cultures, histories, methods of food sustainability, participation in ceremonies, and the cultivation of connectedness with land. Research has shown that Indigenous communities with greater control over their resources (such as health services and schools), stewardship of land, and cultural revitalization have significantly lower rates of suicide.
Read more at Stanford.edu.