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Natives on Bullying & Suicide: 'Coulda Drowned, But I Grabbed a Rope'

Julieanne Jennings
11/21/13

The rising teenage suicide rate (or attempted suicides) among any population is sorrowful. Multiple youth suicides send waves of hopelessness and despair throughout all communities in which they occur. In a recent article by the National Education Association, Bullying Emerges as a Contributing Factor: The Scourge of Suicides among American Indian and Alaska Native Youth, 2011 revels, “American Indian children and teenagers are committing suicide at more than three times the rate of the overall youth population in this country. Among American Indian and Alaska Native youth, suicide is the second leading cause of death behind accidental injuries.” Vulnerability factors include: high rates of poverty and unemployment, substance abuse, family breakdown, pressure to abandon their traditional culture, and a lack of culturally sensitive mental health care providers and resources to address their unique needs.

Additional causes are described as “stressful events” that can trigger a suicide, according to researchers and public health professionals. “One such stress event for American Indian and Alaska Native youth who have committed suicide is the loss of an adult who has been close to them—a parent, grandparent or some other family member—due to death, divorce or desertion.” Another major stress event is “the suicide of a friend or peer—hence the multiplier effect of suicide.” Another is persistent and pernicious bullying.

Other critical factors include “historical trauma,” psychological trauma occurring over generations that has negative and far-reaching effects on past, present and future generations. And in many cases, low self-esteem and poor school performance is perpetuated by the dominate narrative of perpetual progress offered by educators that place racial and ethnic minorities largely as incidental characters to America’s myth-building story. As a consequence, the realization for many non-Indian students is that Indians don’t matter. From the First Thanksgiving, Columbus’ “Raid on the New World” to the settling of America, the American Indian has suffered a long history of violence, oppression and marginalization. Such affects have created deep gaps in our socio-economic realities, and has paved the way for the continuous poisonous toad of racism against us, even in the classroom.

My 16-year-old daughter, recently spent 20 days in a mental health facility for cutting, depression and anxiety as a result of being bullied at school because she was viewed as being “different,” a young “mixed-race Indian woman determined to graduate high school and go on to be a cosmetologist.

The vast majority of American Indian and Alaska Native students attend K-12 public schools. Educators are committed to the proposition that every student has the right to learn, grow and develop his or her full potential, regardless of one’s personal, sexual and social orientation, it is critical that we address the bullying issue. My daughter explains, “Coulda drowned, but I grabbed the rope.” She sought adult help before it was too late. She was one of the lucky ones, others may not be that fortunate.

Student-to-student bullying is not acceptable; and is a human rights issue. It violates a student’s basic human right to a quality education, and its impact on the bullied student can be severe, including increased absenteeism, lowered academic achievement, increased anxiety, loss of self-esteem and confidence, depression, deterioration of physical health, and suicidal thinking.

What can be done? School employees and school districts have a moral and legal obligation to put a stop to such harassment or bullying based on race (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Moreover, school administrators must not only discipline the perpetrators, but they and the other school employees also have a responsibility to take steps to create a school environment in which such discriminatory harassment and bullying does not recur. The Office for Civil Rights, United State Department of Education offers technical assistance to help schools achieve voluntary compliance with the civil rights laws and works with schools to develop creative approaches to preventing discrimination by bullying or harassment. Let’s stop bullying now.

Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.

 

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saladtosser's picture
Well written article. Please continue to raise awareness and support activity to remedy this ugly scourge across America and Indian Country.
saladtosser
bullbear's picture
Almost everyone has considered suicide, whether it is youth or adult, at one point in their life, but most are able to rationalize and place it in an appropriate perspective. The absolute harsh reality is that is has been occurring at an alarming rate and too close to home. This may tell us that we are either doing a very poor job of taking preventative measures or not informing our communities of Suicide Prevention Hotlines. What are the signs? Will talking about it help? Suicide is not going to go away if we ignore it. Many of us know of someone who died as a result of suicide and we can only wonder why and feel great remorse for their family and friends. If youth are suffering, then as adults, we should be bringing them into the fold and listen to what they are trying to tell us. If the rate of suicide is three times higher than the national norm for American Indians, what has our elected tribal officials and Indian Health Service done to address this? As adults, what can we do to place this as a high priority in our community?
bullbear
Anonymous's picture
Being a ER RN at now 3 Native American/Alaskan hospitals it is heart breaking at what I have witnessed. I am not Native but choose to be a work and live within these communities. There are Behavioral Health counselors available for both outpatient and some are sent to inpatient facilities. My nephew was a suicide victim 9/2004 at 17 years of age with a full life a head of him so I know a fraction of the pain these families feel. Every life is sacred and has their own story to tell and pass on we can't let those folks forget how needed they are her with us.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
take hope. i was told in high school as a native girl i would most likely get pregnant and stay home and have more kids! and it was the caring serious principle who told me this very very concerned and caring like......and in my mind i thought "that's what you think....i want to go to university and be a scientist". i also began to experience frustration and despair and at that age (grade 11...16y old) it was really hard to get out what was inside and i think that's why i started cutting. it was an actual release of my potential brought on by me....which is what i needed....i needed to challenge my own potential and i was being frustrated and thwarted at seemingly out of my control higher powers.....and it really sucked until my late 20s and i had the opportunity to take a university program at the same time i was healthy and not using drugs or alcohol and i got straight A's. and suddenly i remembered my potential....and i started thinking i had a future and everything changed for the better from there....your daughter recognized her potential...much earlier than an appropriate challenge was made available.....its all about believing in potential isn;t it?
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Long article with ne paragraph on what can be done with no suggestions at all. What can be done? Check out this conference... Sunka Wakan - Healing Medicine Conference.. google the title
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I'm a 21 year old, mixed race, Native Woman and this happened to me. I have attempted suicide about 5 times, have spent time in mental health facilities and have faced all these issues. I live in an area where there are not many other Natives, maybe 4 families of native heritage in the area. I have light skin so I was bullied by white kids because they said I was lying about my family history. When I would visit Reservations in Colorado or Wyoming, I was also made fun of because I wasn't dark enough. My mixed family also has a horrendous double standard about culture. Both sides of my family are very Christian, but I am drawn to the old ways, so I am ostracized about my beliefs, and some of my little cousins actually believe I am a bad person because "she doesn't believe in God and Jesus.", which is a lie. I have a chronic pain condition that restricts my ability to work, so I live with and am supported by my parent, which, as a young adult is a bit of a problem. I am held up to very strict, unrealistic moral standards by my family. They are angry with me that I left my first boyfriend and did not marry him even though they hated him, because having "more than three love interests in your life means your a slut.". When I finally came out of the closet and told them I was two-spirit they threatened to kick me out of the house and told me I was lying to myself because "being gay is a new trend" I also have a couple of tattoo's and this gives them all the more reason to treat me as a second class citizen. I was taught to believe that all people are beautiful and human, made by the Creator and given equal rights, and this makes me feel sad because I am part of the family, one of Gods creations, but I am not to be respected by either side of my family because I am not the perfect, white, christian, southern belle they want me to be. I know I'm different, but it's not a bad thing, and I wish I could help other young people going through the experiences I have gone through, and am still currently going through. I want every one to know that they are not alone and that they are loved.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I'm a 21 year old, mixed race, Native Woman and this happened to me. I have attempted suicide about 5 times, have spent time in mental health facilities and have faced all these issues. I live in an area where there are not many other Natives, maybe 4 families of native heritage in the area. I have light skin so I was bullied by white kids because they said I was lying about my family history. When I would visit Reservations in Colorado or Wyoming, I was also made fun of because I wasn't dark enough. My mixed family also has a horrendous double standard about culture. Both sides of my family are very Christian, but I am drawn to the old ways, so I am ostracized about my beliefs, and some of my little cousins actually believe I am a bad person because "she doesn't believe in God and Jesus.", which is a lie. I have a chronic pain condition that restricts my ability to work, so I live with and am supported by my parent, which, as a young adult is a bit of a problem. I am held up to very strict, unrealistic moral standards by my family. They are angry with me that I left my first boyfriend and did not marry him even though they hated him, because having "more than three love interests in your life means your a slut.". When I finally came out of the closet and told them I was two-spirit they threatened to kick me out of the house and told me I was lying to myself because "being gay is a new trend" I also have a couple of tattoo's and this gives them all the more reason to treat me as a second class citizen. I was taught to believe that all people are beautiful and human, made by the Creator and given equal rights, and this makes me feel sad because I am part of the family, one of Gods creations, but I am not to be respected by either side of my family because I am not the perfect, white, christian, southern belle they want me to be. I know I'm different, but it's not a bad thing, and I wish I could help other young people going through the experiences I have gone through, and am still currently going through. I want every one to know that they are not alone and that they are loved.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Thank you for your post. As a native in California, I have had to really stress the spiritually of cultural traditions because I was a single parent of three for some time. The loss of their father and the taunting at their schools really did a lot of damage. With positive support and implementing the cultural values we may have a better chance at helping our youth. M Locke, Paralegal
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Bullying is wrong no matter the '' excuse '' so sad when anyone feels that suicide is the only answer.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Darwin indian reservation is clan song beauty way not poor me aliens know what sells dollars.
Anonymous