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September 19, 2018

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

BRUNSWICK, ME – U.S Senator Angus King (I-Maine) joined a bipartisan group of his Senate colleagues to introduce the 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.), Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), and 27 other House cosponsors.


“One suicide in Maine is one too many – and in order to tackle a problem as serious as this, we need to have everyone at the table discussing solutions,” said Senator King. “Native communities have some of the highest rates of suicide in the nation, which is why including them in discussions about suicide prevention is so important – it’s just commonsense, and it can save lives.”


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.


In addition to Senator King, this legislation is supported by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), 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.

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