Wisconsin Ojibwe tribe hosts suicide prevention conference

LAC DU FLAMBEAU, WISCONSIN — The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians has just wrapped up a suicide prevention conference. The event, called Carry The Cure, was the first of its kind for the tribe.

“Native Americans suffer from high suicide rates, (and) rates of alcoholism and drug abuse that far exceed the national averages,” Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians public relations director Brandon Thoms said. “That, coupled with poverty and historic trauma, really created an environment for these sorts of issues to flourish in our communities.”

The Centers for Disease Control said in 2012 that suicide is the second–leading cause of death for Native Americans from ages 15 to 34. Their suicide rate is also two and a half times the national average for that age group.

“This conference is actually to help the community kind of get a start as far as their community prevention plan for suicide,” Lanier Nabahe from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Tribal Training and Technical Assistance Center said. “I think a lot of tribes are actually tackling this issue with themselves, and they need assistance with planning, so a lot of it kind of goes with the community, where the community’s strengths are. A lot of it’s kind of up there with their cultural identity.”

Our cameras weren’t allowed inside the strategic planning session that was taking place because of the sensitive and proprietary nature of the information presented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
However, the concept of culture as prevention came up.

“Here, they’re from the Anishinaabe tribe, and they have their own way of doing things,” Willie Wolf from the SAMSHA Tribal Training and Technical Assistance Center said. “Their traditional values, their coming–of–rites ceremonies and talking circles and a number of those things are very helpful to making sure they have a strong sense of identity and are proud of who they are.”

“What’s worked in one community is probably not going to work in other communities, so it’s kind of just sharing ideas in what are best practices and (getting) other communities to share those viewpoints,” Nabahe said.

“It’s part of an overall project to bring health and wellness to our tribal community here, and I’m really proud of the place that we’re at and the progress we’re making,” Lac du Flambeau Band constitution committee chair Richard Jack said.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community will likely soon become more involved with the Lac du Flambeau Band through the recently-created Chippewa Federation. The six Wisconsin Ojibwe bands created the group speak with a united voice on natural resources, health, education, business development and other issues.

“The Keweenaw Bay Band in (the) Upper Peninsula of Michigan attended our last month’s meeting and is in essence, in concept, agreed to come on board with the Chippewa Federation, lending their involvement and expertise in areas that many tribes need to help each other in, such as treaty rights, social issues, political organization, so it’s important that we have involvement from not only the tribes in Wisconsin, but the tribes in the Upper Peninsula,” Thoms said.

So, suicide prevention conferences like Carry the Cure and other events may become more widespread in the U.P. as well.