February 13, 2019

Warren, Murkowski, Grijalva, & Cole Re-Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Address Suicide Crisis in Native Communities

Legislation Gives Tribal Nations a Seat at the Table in Planning Suicide Prevention Programs; In Some Tribal Communities, Youth Suicide Rate is 10 Times Greater Than the National Average

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Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) along with Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) today re-introduced the bipartisan Native American Suicide Prevention Act in the Senate and the House. This legislation would help address the alarming suicide rate in Native communities by requiring collaboration among states and tribal nations in the design and implementation of statewide suicide intervention and prevention strategies.

Senators Warren, Murkowski, and fifteen of their Senate colleagues first introduced this legislation in the Senate in the last Congress. It has been introduced by Representative Grijalva in the House of Representatives since 2013.

“Each tribal nation understands how to best serve their respective communities and should be part of any conversation that affects the livelihood and wellbeing of their people,” said Senator Warren. “This bipartisan legislation is a necessary step in ensuring that tribal nations are heard and empowered to create suicide prevention programs tailored to the needs of their tribal communities.”

"Alaska consistently tops the charts with some of the highest suicide rates in the country, with a disproportionately high rate in Native communities. When someone takes their own life, families and often entire communities are impacted by the shock and grief that follows," said Senator Murkowski. "I’m proud to introduce the Native American Suicide Prevention Act, alongside Senator Warren and many other Senate colleagues, to ensure Alaska Native communities have a voice in developing and implementing culturally relevant suicide prevention and intervention strategies. Our goal is to save lives and to give hope and support to so many Alaskans in need."

“Uplifting the voices of Native peoples and tribal governments is critical to forming culturally appropriate solutions to tackle the suicide epidemic plaguing Native American reservations,” said Rep. Grijalva. “This bill will begin a process of inclusion and should be coupled with addressing the economic insecurity, high unemployment rates, and limited access to quality healthcare that cause underlying issues of injustice and hardship faced by tribal communities. I look forward to empowering tribes and helping them implement solutions with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to ensure that no family endures the trauma or losing a loved one to suicide.”

“The chilling rate at which Native Americans are lost to suicide calls for urgent action,” said Rep. Cole. “In response to this public health crisis preying on young Native Americans, I am proud to reintroduce commonsense legislation that seeks to change the troubling current reality. With access to the right tools in tribal communities, I believe intervention can happen sooner and precious lives can be saved.”

The suicide epidemic on Native American reservations continues to reach crisis levels. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native people ages 10-34. For American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 15-34, the suicide rate is 1.5 times higher than the national average. In some tribal communities, the youth suicide rate is 10 times greater than the national average. 

Despite the devastating scope of this crisis and the clear need for Native communities' involvement in the development of suicide prevention strategies, tribal nations and tribal organizations are too often left out of planning and execution of statewide suicide prevention programs.

The Native American Suicide Prevention Act would help address this epidemic by ensuring that in carrying out existing Public Health Service Act programs, states or state-designated entities are required to collaborate with each federally recognized tribal nation, tribal organization, urban Indian organization, and Native Hawaiian health care system in the state in developing and implementing statewide suicide early intervention and prevention strategies.

Joining Senators Warren and Murkowski in sponsoring this legislation are Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.).

"New Mexico and all of Indian Country have lost far too many people in Native communities to suicide - and it is past time that we confront this crisis," said Senator Udall, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. "This legislation is an important step in empowering Tribal organizations to help states develop effective, culturally competent strategies to decrease the risk of suicide in Native communities. Through collaboration and partnership, we can implement intervention and prevention programs that are sensitive to the unique needs of Indian Country. As the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I'm committed to working to strengthen our national response to suicide and connect Native people to the resources they need to choose life."

"Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for Native Americans, yet far too often Tribes have been denied a seat at the table in the allocation of funding and design of critical suicide prevention programming,” said Senator Blumenthal. “This legislation will right that wrong, directing states to include Tribes in the development of state strategies for preventing suicides."

“If we are going to effectively address the alarming epidemic of suicide in Native American communities, we need to work together with tribes and American Indian organizations to ensure they have the resources and support they need,” said Senator Duckworth. “I am proud to join Senators Warren, Murkowski and a number of my colleagues in re-introducing this bipartisan legislation and I hope the Senate passes it immediately.”

“Suicide disproportionately hurts Native communities, and tribes should be able to share input about how we can best work together to develop intervention and prevention strategies for their families," said Senator Smith, Member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. "This bipartisan legislation will ensure this coordination happens, so we can take an effective and culturally appropriate approach to getting people the help they need."

“Native communities face serious challenges that are unlike those faced in other communities– and these unique problems are part of the reason that native populations are plagued by some of the highest rates of suicide in the nation,” said Senator King. “One suicide is one too many. We need to bring together voices from all aspects of American life – including members of our native communities – to create suicide prevention programs that can save lives.”

“The disparities between our tribal communities and the rest of the country are shocking. The suicide rate among Native American youth continues to be a crisis, and we must take action to find solutions,” said Senator Klobuchar. “This legislation will allow us to support tribes to design and implement modern suicide intervention and prevention strategies to save lives.”

“Native Hawaiians, and particularly Native Hawaiian youth, are disproportionately at risk for suicide and mental health issues,” said Senator Hirono. “To address the needs of this community, we must ensure that their voices and perspectives are included in suicide early intervention and prevention strategies in our state. The Native American Suicide Prevention Act will help in that effort by making sure that our Native Hawaiian Health care systems have a seat at the table.”

“Our Native communities are in the midst of a suicide crisis, and we must do more to support them as they fight to end it. The Native American Suicide Prevention Act would ensure that Tribal leaders play a role in the development and implementation of suicide prevention programs so that these strategies are culturally competent and effective,” said Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “I’m proud to join Senators Warren and Murkowski in this effort to empower tribes and bring an end to the epidemic of Native suicide.”

Supporters of the Native American Suicide Prevention Act include the National Indian Health Board, the National Council of Urban Indian Health, the American Foundation for Suicide PreventionJohns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the Alaska Native Health Board, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Tanana Chiefs Conference, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, Papa Ola L?kahi, the Association For Behavioral Healthcare, and the Pueblo of Zuni.

Last year, Senator Warren and Rep. Grijalva co-authored an op-ed for Indianz.com on the importance of empowering tribal communities in addressing the suicide crisis. “Some tribes and Native organizations have successfully developed specialized programs to serve their communities, including the incorporation of Native culture and traditions,” they wrote. “Under our legislation, culturally competent programs would be encouraged, explored, supported, and applied broadly to help save more lives—both on and off the reservation.”