February 13, 2019

Cortez Masto, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Address Suicide Crisis in Native Communities

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and 13 Senate colleagues to introduce the bipartisan Native American Suicide Prevention Act. 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. Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) introduced the companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“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 Cortez Masto. “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.”

“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.”

Joining Senators Cortez Masto, 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.), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.).

BACKGROUND:

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. 

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 Prevention, Johns 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, Papa Ola Lokahi, the Association For Behavioral Healthcare, and the Pueblo of Zuni. 

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