Suicide among Indigenous Peoples: What Does the International Knowledge Tell Us?

By Leenaars, Antoon A.; EchoHawk, Marlene et al. | The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Suicide among Indigenous Peoples: What Does the International Knowledge Tell Us?


Leenaars, Antoon A., EchoHawk, Marlene, Lester, David, Leenaars, Lindsey, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies


Abstract / Résumé

Indigenous people around the world have the highest suicide risk of any identifiable culture (or ethnic group). It is a youth epidemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) had called for action. The research by scholars, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, from the Arctic, Canada, Australia, Greenland, United States of America (USA), New Zealand, Brazil and Siberia, is presented. These international studies show that suicide is multi-determined in Indigenous people; simple answers (or their solutions) are fabrications. Colonialism and the difficulties faced ever since are cited as a common factor worldwide. It is concluded that much greater cooperative international efforts are needed to not only understand, but also to predict and control the epidemic.

Partout dans le monde, les populations autochtones affichent le risque de suicide le plus élevé parmi toutes les cultures ou tous les groupes ethniques reconnus. Il s'agit d'une épidémie chez les jeunes. L'Organisation mondiale de la Santé (OMS) a lancé un appel à l'action. L'auteur présente les recherches menées par des universitaires autochtones et non autochtones dans l'Arctique canadien, en Australie, au Groenland, aux États-Unis d'Amérique, en Nouvelle-Zélande, au Brésil et en Sibérie. Les études internationales indiquent que le suicide est déterminé par de multiples facteurs chez les peuples autochtones. Les réponses ou les solutions simples sont des fabulations. Partout dans le monde, on mentionne comme facteurs communs le colonialisme et les difficultés qui en ont découlé. En conclusion, l'auteur met de l'avant la nécessité d'accroître les efforts internationaux de collaboration pour non seulement comprendre, mais aussi prédire l'épidémie et lutter contre elle.

Almost a million people die by suicide each year (World Health Organization, WHO, estimate). This is staggering; indeed, a report of WHO (2002), World Report on Violence and Health, found that more people die by self-directed violence than terrorism, wars and homicides combined. Even more alarming, the report noted the existence of high-risk groups. Indigenous people are one, if not the highest risk group identified. (Of course, there are Indigenous groups with very low rates. see Table 1, Tribal suicide rates in America.) WHO reported that, "suicide rates have increased strikingly among Indigenous peoples." Young men are especially at risk. There are multiple reasons, but WHO reported:

Various explanations have been put forward for the high rates of suicide and suicidal behaviour among Indigenous peoples. Among the proposed underlying causes are the enormous social and cultural turmoil created by the policies of colonialism and the difficulties faced ever since by Indigenous peoples in adjusting and integrating into the modemday societies. (p.190)

Research, however, is lacking. There have been few efforts to bring together our understanding of suicide among Indigenous peoples around the world. WHO called for more study and encouraged cooperative efforts. WHO suggested that we need to know what the international knowledge tells us. A special issue of Archives of Suicide Research (ASR) heeded this call; the volume was published in ASR, 2006, Vol. 10 -101 224. My co-editors were Marlene EchoHawk, David Lester, Lindsey Leenaars, and Elisabeth Haramic. This presentation presents a summary of the findings of the report, Suicide among Indigenous Peoples: The Research, the first international volume of its kind. This report heeded a call for cooperative efforts by WHO. It begins to answer the question: What does the international knowledge or research tell us about suicide among Indigenous peoples?

Indigenous Peoples and Suicide

Allow me to begin with some quotes from Jon Perez's Foreword to the report, entitled, Suicide among Indigenous People: Foreword. Jon Perez is Director, Division of Behavioral Health, Indian Health Services, the United States of America. …

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