Magazine article District Administration

Natives Fight Back Using Simple Life Courses

Magazine article District Administration

Natives Fight Back Using Simple Life Courses

Article excerpt

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. …

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