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February 14, 2019

King, Colleagues Renew Bipartisan Efforts to Address Suicide Crisis in Native Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today joined a bipartisan group of his Senate colleagues to reintroduce the Native American Suicide Prevention Act. This legislation would help address the suicide crisis in Native communities by ensuring collaboration between states and tribal nations to design and implement statewide suicide intervention and prevention strategies that work for their communities. Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) have introduced companion legislation in the house.

“One suicide is one too many – it tears holes in the hearts of families, friends, and communities,” said Senator King. “Tribal nations each face unique challenges to suicide prevention, and they should have a seat at the table so they can have the resources and support they need to address these challenges head on. Suicide prevention programs save lives, and we need to bring together our collective voices so we can help people get healthy and live happy and fulfilling 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 bipartisan legislation is supported by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), 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.), 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.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.).

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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