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Indigenous Suicide Prevention

American Indian communities display a prominent association between suicide and community-level factors, indicating a need for a broader approach to prevention. Indigenous suicide is associated with cultural and community disruptions,namely, social disorganization, culture loss, and a collective suffering. Equally, lower suicide rates and increased well-being have been associated with community empowerment, connectedness, family cohesion, and cultural affinity among Native people. Yet despite the connection between personal and community health in American Indian communities, suicide prevention interventions are often individually focused and clinically based.

Suicide in indigenous communities is frequently identified as the terminal outcome of historical oppression, current injustice, and ongoing social suffering. Indigenous societies’ concept of personhood differs from Western ideas. First, the expression of selfhood for many tribal people is relationally defined rather than oriented toward individual characteristics; Indigenous people often describe themselves through their kin. Suicide can be understood as a way of expressing social distress and despair. This orientation is consistent with tribal associations between suicide and culture loss, historical trauma, and social suffering. Historical trauma has been defined as cultural stress and grief that is related to genocide and racism that have been generalized, internalized and institutionalized. Without resolution, indigenous people can be seen as sometimes misattributing their present struggles to personal and collective failings rather than to oppressive systems and structures.

Indigenous suicide prevention must be formulated in response to local cultural meanings and practices. Understanding the culturally mediated and socially negotiated ideas about the causes of and appropriate responses to suicide in indigenous communities provides clues for developing culturally based preventive interventions. If suicide is an expression of collective as well as personal suffering, then interventions must address the community and family as well as the suicidal individual. Suicide prevention should not represent and extend aspects of colonialism in tribal com- munities. Instead, prevention activities might focus on and fund locally driven decolonization efforts. (Wexler & Gone (2012). Culturally Responsive Suicide Prevention in Indigenous Communities: Unexamined Assumptions and New Possibilities. Framing Health Matters, American Journal of Public Health | May 2012, Vol 102, No. 5).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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