The legislation marks a first step by the state to address the problem of high suicide rates among Indian youth in New Mexico
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez traveled to the nation’s largest American Indian reservation on Thursday to sign a bill aimed at preventing youth suicides, a problem that has plagued communities across Indian Country.
The legislation signed in the Navajo community of Shiprock will establish a framework for creating a statewide clearinghouse for suicide prevention and culturally-based prevention initiatives.
The federal Indian Health Service identifies suicide as the second-leading cause of death behind unintentional injuries among Indian children and young adults, and statistics show young Native Americans commit suicide at a rate more than three times the national average.
“It is so sad to see young people feel so devastated in their daily lives that they feel taking their own lives is the only option. What we need to do is make sure they understand that there are other options, that they don’t have to take that ultimate step and that they matter,” Martinez told The Associated Press.
No funding was set aside for the effort this year because of the state’s limited resources, but Sen. Lynda Lovejoy, the Crownpoint Democrat who sponsored the measure, vowed she and other supporters would work to find the necessary money for establishing and expanding the program by the next legislative session.
The new law marks a first step in addressing a problem that requires special resources and expertise — something many tribes don’t have, Lovejoy said.
“We want this to be effective. We don’t want just an idea,” Lovejoy said of the clearinghouse. “We want to plan it right. We want to organize it right. We want this to be a model for other states with Native populations.”
In South Dakota, the Crow Creek tribe formed a task force earlier this year to stem a rise in suicides and attempted suicides on their reservation.
On the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, Sioux and Assiniboine leaders declared a crisis last year after several children killed themselves and dozens of others tried.
New Mexico’s legislation was sparked in part by a string of suicides in the Navajo community of Thoreau and on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico between 2009 and 2010.
Lovejoy said the push for New Mexico to address the problem came from a grass-roots effort that involved “very caring people” who work with children in New Mexico’s Indian communities.
Scattered, independent programs have worked to tackle Indian youth suicide, but Lovejoy said the challenges that are pushing children down that path transcend state and reservation boundaries.
She pointed to the rural, isolated lifestyle of many Native American families, dire economic conditions, few opportunities for youth to congregate outside of school, low self-esteem, bullying and a lack of mental health services.
“Our kids are so vulnerable that they can fall into the trap of this kind of travesty,” Lovejoy said.
With the signing of the bill, supporters said Indian communities will have another place to look for help.
More resources are also being focused on Native American suicide thanks to the recent congressional overhaul of tribal health care. Federal law now requires more emphasis on preventative care and mental health services, including suicide prevention.
As New Mexico builds up its prevention program, the governor said the simplest thing families, friends, educators and communities can do is make children feel important and encourage them to overcome their fears and chase their dreams.
“We must not be held back by stereotypes, despair or glass ceilings that limit achievement and undermine confidence,” she said.
Thursday, 31 March 2011 12:42
Gov. Susana Martinez traveled to the nation’s largest American Indian reservation Thursday to sign a bill that aims to tackle a problem that has plagued many communities across Indian Country.
Martinez stopped in the Navajo community of Shiprock to sign legislation that establishes a framework for creating a statewide clearinghouse for suicide prevention along with culturally-based prevention initiatives.
The legislation marks a first step by the state to address the problem of high suicide rates among Indian youth in New Mexico.
The legislation was sparked in part by a string of suicides in Thoreau and on the Mescalero reservation between 2009 and 2010.
No funding has been set aside for the effort, but supporters say they will work over the next year to find the necessary money.