Tribal leaders root out underlying causes of suicide

by Sophie Evan on August 27, 2013

Chief Chaliak of Nunapitchuk, photo by S. Evan

Chief Chaliak of Nunapitchuk, photo by S. Evan

Alaskan Tribes recently wrapped up a statewide summit focusing on suicide and it’s underlying root causes. Various reasons for the national and local suicide epidemic were discussed. Concrete sources were identified, like P-T-S-D affects from abuse in all forms, Historical Trauma, and various Federal and State laws designed to quote, “kill the Indian but save the man.”

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The second floor atrium of the Hilton Hotel was filled with Alaskan Tribal Leaders from all over the state. Tribal leaders representing Indigenous people who are still reeling from the rapid lifestyle changes experienced by them recently, once completely living the traditional subsistence way to today’s America.

The summit was co-chaired by Bill Martin of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, and Mike Williams Senior, Area Vice-President of the National Congress of American Indians. Williams says the Tribal Leaders were directed to hold the suicide summit in response to the large number of suicide deaths by the Alaskan Indigenous population. Williams said there is a need to find out the root causes of hopelessness.

“to identify those underlying causes of the conditions of our people in the villages,” says Williams.

He says the causes may be hard to pin point, but that the effort is starting.

“and we identified slow suicide from alcohol and drugs, to a fast suicide of immediate death,” added Williams.

Williams says in identifying the underlying causes the summit came up with some important discoveries and agreement.

“the impacts are connected to some of the policies and agreements that are forced upon the Tribal Government in Alaska, like the Alaska Native Claims Act, and the Dawes Act Termination policy, those Federal and State policies and regulation and programs affect us all,” says Williams.

He went on to say that, “the loss of language, loss of culture, loss of self determination, loss of land, loss of hunting and fishing rights, and many others, many of the communities are dealing with these underlying causes, and as much as we want to make changes, politics has to be included,” says Williams.

The Tribal Leaders summit passed resolution number 13-01, entitled, “Restoring Native American Indigenous Rights to address the crisis of suicide and other social challenges facing our communities.”

Williams says they have action items to follow through with as well, like establishing a Suicide Workforce charged to keep Tribal Leaders on task.

“communities throughout Alaska must develop their own preventative program to enhance and uplift our young people,” says Williams.

In the two-day meeting, Tribal Leaders were given a lot of information on the various suicide prevention programs that have been successful out in rural Alaskan villages. The Tribal Leaders are already planning for a follow up summit this winter.

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