In the past year, two separate native populations have called a state of emergency for their community relating to a seemingly uncontrollable suicide epidemic: last year, Pine Ridge in South Dakota and recently, Cross Lake in Manitoba.
There is no question that suicide among native populations is a major problem. Native American teens experience the highest rate of suicide of any other population in the US.
Here, at Lutheran Indian Ministries, we take this problem very seriously, because we work with it daily in the native community. In fact, our own Rick McCafferty, in Anchorage, Alaska, and Rick and Linda Martin, in Manitoba, both specialize in healing wounds of the heart through Biblically based counseling and deal with suicide attempts and victims' families almost daily. We strive to bring native people into a relationship with Christ while also working on personal, emotional healing.
But, what can I do about it? I'm just one person.
Below are four ways that you can help:
1. Educate yourself
Suicide doesn't just show up for no good reason. Between poverty and unemployment, generations of family abuse and addiction, and historical and cultural mistreatment, there is no shortage of reasons why suicide hits the Native American population with such a great force.
The more you know about the bigger picture, the history as well as the current events, the better you will be prepared to help with the underlying causes of suicide and make an impact.
2. Connect with a non-profit already doing the work
Lutheran Indian Ministries works closely with nine specific native nations, as well as many rural communities and a native campus ministry. (And we're really nice people... wink, wink, nudge, nudge)
By working with an already established organization, you eliminate the hassle of the administrative side of ministry and can focus on the hands-on, face-to-face work.
3. Or, if you like to be in charge, connect with a local tribal council
Just because Cross Lake and Pine Ridge made the news, doesn't mean other groups aren't also struggling. Depression and suicide are rampant on nearly all reservations, as well as poverty, unemployment, and addiction.
Look up your closest reservation or tribal group and ask them what they need. They are in the thick of it, and they will know best exactly what they need and where their weaknesses lie. But be aware, if this is the route you want to take, it isn't a one-time event. Fixing the cultural and systemic issues within reservation life will take a lifetime of work.
Prayer is our most powerful tool.
No matter what we do or how hard we work, without God's blessing, it's destined to fall short.
At Lutheran Indian Ministries, we realize that we have to work on the problems of this world to affect change, but more importantly, we know that this world is temporary. We share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a people that desperately needs his hope and his light in a dark world.
Our ultimate goal is to celebrate with all nations in heaven, and if we can end a suicide epidemic in the mean time, then we're helping His Kingdom on earth as well.