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Tester Addresses Hope and Opportunity in Indian Country

A letter by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) discussing the need to address youth suicide across the country as well as within Indian country. Tester uses Fort Peck Reservation, a Native American tribe within Montana as an example of the poverty stricken communities within Indian country who face this issue on a daily basis.

Below is a letter from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in regards to providing hope to American Indian youth and a means to help curb youth suicide in Indian country.

Montana is a state with a rich history of working together. Neighbors help neighbors. We have a long tradition of working hard for a brighter future for our kids and grandkids.

Montana’s children should grow up knowing they can achieve whatever they want.

Sadly, too many children across Indian country also feel a sense of hopelessness.

Six children from Fort Peck Reservation took their own lives in 2010. At least 20 others attempted suicide. The problem is not isolated to Fort Peck. Across the nation, Indian reservations have faced similar challenges.

As a father and grandfather, the loss of children is unthinkable.

As a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I chaired a field hearing in August. Working together with tribal leaders, students, and families, our goal was to begin finding answers to very difficult questions. How do we prevent, respond to and recover from an epidemic of child suicides?

At my hearing, I heard Fanci Jackson share her experiences dealing with the hopelessness that many young people face on the reservation. Fanci reminded us that adults play a big part in solving this crisis and need to serve as valuable role models for our children.

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Dick Manning from the University of Montana’s National Native Children’s Trauma Center said suicide prevention takes a community willing to work together to break down barriers to solve this problem.

After all, one of the greatest strengths in Indian country is kinship, with community families celebrating with each other during good times and supporting one another during tough times.

To start addressing this issue, Fort Peck will use a new grant to promote activities that emphasize resilience and leadership. Tribal leaders will work to create a safe place where kids can engage in positive activities and talk to trained staff while avoiding negative distractions. The goal is to build youth confidence and trust and eliminate the causes that lead to youth suicide.

While this resource will go a long way in addressing the very tough issues facing Fort Peck and other communities across Montana, it’s clear that we have more work to do to ensure that the tragedy of youth suicide receives the attention it deserves.

We need to find ways to recruit more health professionals in frontier communities. And we must address the poverty that causes despair and harms families. Good jobs and healthy economies and real self-determination lead to healthy, prosperous and happy lives.

Most of all, it will take a greater understanding of the overall challenges facing Indian country and everyone coming together to ensure that our children live up to their full potential.

I look forward to continuing to work with community leaders and family members across Indian country on this important issue.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is a third generation farmer from Montana and a member of Senate Indian Affairs Committee.