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Natives fight back using simple life courses.

The shootings at Red Lake High School this spring brought to light some ugly statistics: Suicide among Native American youth is roughly 2.5 times higher than the national rate; alcohol-related deaths among this population between ages 15 to 24 are 17 times higher than national averages; and Native Americans' 35.5 percent school dropout rate is twice the U.S. average.

Unfortunately, these U.S. Department of Justice numbers aren't news to insiders like John Oliveira, the national child abuse coordinator for the Bureau of Indian Affair's Office of Law Enforcement Services in Billings, Mont. Suicide, he says, has been the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10 to 24 for years. "Quite honestly, it can't get much worse in Indian country," he says.

The whys are cloudy. Research into this population has been sketchy, made more difficult by the amalgamation of tribes, cultures and customs. And, of course, history took its toll. "We have the highest violent crime rate, highest domestic violence rate, highest child abuse rates and the highest poverty and illiteracy rates," Oliveira says. "Is it institutionalized racism and oppression from 150 years ago? Sure. But as we commonly say in Indian country, 'These are European influences, but they're native owned now. We have to do something about it within Indian country.'"

Experts are defining education's role in the turnaround. Oliveira recently convinced The Jason Foundation, a school-based national teen suicide prevention program based in Nashville, not to be confused with the JASON Foundation, to develop its curriculum for Native American youth. According to foundation's President and CEO Clark Flatt, the warning signs among this ethnic group don't differ from others so his program should reach this audience. The signs to look for in a friend include the person talking about suicide; feeling hopeless or worthless; preoccupied with death; and giving prized possessions away.

Oliveira also advocates life-skills courses in schools--practical lessons like how to buy a car, manage a checkbook, and survive off the reservation. "We need to tell kids it's OK to leave, to go to college," he says. "You can come back if you choose to or not. But it doesn't take away your identity."

Results at the 184 schools that the Bureau of Indian Affairs runs using similar tools are promising. Stanley Holder, alcohol, drug and violence prevention specialist at the Center for School Improvement in the BIA's Office of Indian Education Programs, says they've seen a marked decrease in high-risk behaviors from 1997 to today. The only area that experienced a 2 percent increase: suicide ideation.

"Red Lake opened our eyes to the fact that we must be conscious daily of what our students are saying through their actions, their moods, and their activities to determine their true needs," Holder notes.
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Title Annotation:SECURITY TRENDS: The latest trends in school safety and security; Suicide among Native American youth
Author:Sturgeon, Julie
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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