Today, Congressman Joe Baca (D-Rialto) introduced legislation designed to give sovereign tribal governments, tribal health organizations, and urban Indian health organizations greater input in the development and implementation of state-wide suicide intervention and prevention strategies. The Native American Suicide Prevention Act of 2012 finally gives tribal communities a voice in crafting targeted suicide prevention programs, in order to give these programs greater cultural resonance and ultimately make them more effective in saving lives.
"Right now, Native Americans have the highest suicide rate of any ethnic group in the United States," said Rep. Baca. "I am hopeful that by providing tribal governments and health organizations a greater voice in the suicide prevention process, we will begin to see more effective interventions that can lower the suicide rate, and save lives both on and off reservation."
Tragically, tribal suicide rates are 70 percent higher than for the general population, and the youth suicide rate is even higher. On some reservations youth suicide rates are 10 times the national average. Currently, tribes have no input on how states craft their suicide prevention plans and must compete with states for suicide prevention grant funding.
The Native American Suicide Prevention Act requires states that are awarded section 520E public health grants to consult with tribal governments and health organizations when creating suicide prevention and intervention programs. Section 520E grants are specific, suicide prevention grants that were authorized by Congress in 2004, under the reauthorization of the Public Health Services Act.
"The high rate of suicide amongst our tribal communities is one of our society's great tragedies," concluded Rep. Baca. "It is long past time that tribal governments and stakeholders have their voices heard when it comes to crafting suicide prevention policies. I am proud to introduce this responsible bill, which I hope can save lives, and lower the staggering suicide rates that are currently present in many tribal areas."
Congressman Baca has been an active member of the Native American Caucus in the House of Representatives since first coming to Congress in 1999. He has served as lead sponsor of the Native American Heritage Day Resolution, legislation which passed Congress and was signed into law by the President, to recognize the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day.