September 19, 2018

Cortez Masto Co-Sponsors Bipartisan Bill to Address Suicide Crisis in Native Communities

Legislation Would Give Tribes a Seat at the Table in Planning Suicide Prevention Programs

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), along with fourteen of their Senate colleagues, as an original co-sponsor of the bipartisan Native American Suicide Prevention Act. This legislation would help address the suicide crisis in Indian Country by ensuring collaboration among states and tribal communities to design and implement statewide suicide intervention and prevention strategies that work for their communities. The Native American Suicide Prevention Act is the Senate companion to H.R. 3473, a bipartisan bill introduced by Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.-3), Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.-4), and 27 other House cosponsors.

“The U.S. federal government has a sacred trust responsibility to uphold its treaty obligations and provide for the well-being of our native peoples, including American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. There is an epidemic of suicide in Native communities, and we need to do more to address it. I’ve co-sponsored this bill because it will help us uphold the trust relationship and help bring an end to this devastating crisis,” said Senator Cortez Masto.

“Any conversation on suicide prevention must begin at the grassroots, and tribal communities must be involved in every step of the process,” said Senator Warren. “With suicide rates reaching crisis levels in Indian Country, it is now more important than ever to take action. I’m glad to partner with my colleagues on a bipartisan bill to empower Native communities to develop and implement suicide prevention programs that best suit their communities and help save more lives.”

"Year after year Alaska tops the charts with having some of the highest suicide rates in the country. It's far too prevalent in our Native communities. We also know that one suicide is too many," said Senator Murkowski. "I am proud to introduce the Native American Suicide Prevention Act with my colleague Senator Warren, to ensure Native communities have a seat at the table in developing and implementing statewide suicide intervention and prevention strategies. Together, we can give Alaskans the support they need and ultimately, hope. "


Native American reservations are experiencing an epidemic of suicide that is claiming the lives of countless young people. 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, tribes 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 amending the Public Health Service Act to require states or state-designated entities to collaborate with tribes in an effort to curtail the alarming suicide rate in Native communities. Specifically, the bill would mandate that state governments collaborate with each federally recognized Indian tribe, 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 Cortez Masto, Warren, and Murkowski in sponsoring this legislation are Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

Organizations that support the Native American Suicide Prevention Act include the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the National Council of Urban Indian Health, the Alaska Native Health Board, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Papa Ola Lokahi and the Association For Behavioral Healthcare.