Tribal Summit Explores Suicide Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C.

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) applauded the Rosebud Sioux Tribe for examining ways to prevent suicide during their Sacredness of Life Summit in Mission. Johnson said he has  repeatedly fought to secure resources for Indian communities across the state to help deal with the suicide epidemic that plagues our reservations.

“Suicide is a preventable tragedy, and I commend the Rosebud Sioux Tribe for bringing attention to this issue and taking a look at the root cause of suicide,” said Johnson.

The two day event featured local stories on the effects of suicide as well as panel discussions examining the issue. Rodney Bordeaux, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Lionel Bordeaux, President of Sinte Gleska University, opened the summit on July 1.  A representative addressed the gathering on Johnson’ behalf later in the day.

Johnson is a member of the Indian Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee. Johnson said that last year he demanded that the Indian Health Service focus more agency resources on the youth suicide epidemic.

RST President Rodney Bordeaux said in the Lakota Country Times, “We need to put a stop to this. I wished there were more students here. Suicide cuts across all racial lines…I wonder why kids from outlying areas and Sioux Falls, don’t seem to have the same problem. We have to break down barriers and work together. We are all affected by suicide.”

In the year 2008 alone, six people served by Rosebud health facilities committed suicide, said Bobbi Jo Bruce in the Star Tribune. Bruce is a mental health specialist at the Indian Health Service in Aberdeen. Four of those were men ages 20 to 24, another was a woman 25 to 34 and the other was a woman between ages 35 and 44.

“We have more female attempts than males, but more male completions,” Bruce said.

Nationwide, there were slightly more than 11 suicides per 100,000 people in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But on Rosebud, where 12,143 tribal members receive health care on the reservation, the rate was 48 suicides for every 100,000 people during the first six months of the year, Bruce said.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’ website notes that Indian suicides accounted for half of the total suicides in South Dakota for the age group of 24 and under in 2004.

“There is definitely something going on there and there needs to be some attention brought to it,” said Bruce.  “I think this is a good summit — that they’re trying to do something and they realize there’s a suicide issue there and they’re coming together as a community.”

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