'Hopelessness' Drives Suicide Among Young Native Americans

Monday, 10 Mar 2014 08:16 AM

By Elliot Jager

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An epidemic of suicides is taking the lives of young Native Americans, The Washington Post  reported.

In Arizona's small Indian community of Sacaton, there have been eight suicides in one year. Suicide in Indian country is generally about three times higher than the national average – though on some reservations the figure is 10 times the U.S. average.

Experts attribute the predicament to "crushing hopelessness" brought on by unchecked poverty, lack of work, domestic violence, sexual abuse, alcoholism, and narcotics, according to the Post.

Theresa Pouley, chief judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court in Washington state, said "circumstances are absolutely dire for Indian children."

She said 25 percent of Indian youngsters live in poverty; many never finish high school; substance abuse is common on reservations; unable to overcome trauma, abuse, and neglect, Indians under age 24 are more likely to die than any other group.

Byron Dorgan, a former U.S. senator from North Dakota, is co-chairman of a task force  looking into violence affecting Indian children. He recalled the case of 14-year-old girl, Avis Little Wind, who hanged herself after the suicides of her father and sister.

"She lay in bed," in a fetal position for 90 days, "and nobody, not even her school, missed her. Eventually, she got out of bed and killed herself. Avis Little Wind died of suicide because mental health treatment wasn't available on that reservation," Dorgan said.

While "children bear the brunt of the misery," there is "no sense of urgency" in the country "to do anything about it," he said.

The trauma hits women especially hard. Many have suffered sexual and domestic violence.

All 15 members of the youth council on the Indian reservation in Sacaton said they  knew someone who committed suicide.

Some felt that for conditions to improve, young people need someone to talk to, and opportunities for college scholarships that would offer them a chance to make a life off the reservation.

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