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Seeing Hope and Promising Results in
White Earth Reservation’s Native Alive Program

Native Alive Participants

“I didn’t know that anyone cared.” These words are heart wrenching to hear, especially when they are spoken by someone who is particularly vulnerable. Many of us are fortunate enough to know, at all times, that many people – family, friends and co-workers – care about us. But not everyone is so lucky. Native Alive volunteers heard this painful doubt when they were contacted by a young mother on the White Earth Reservation. Feeling hopeless and alone, the young woman called the Native Alive suicide hotline and told volunteers about her situation, including the fact that she and her children were homeless and living out of a car. Two volunteers met the women and provided support in person. They helped her process her feelings of hopelessness and problem solve her challenging situation. Perhaps more importantly, these special people showed this woman that she was wrong – people did care about her. That demonstration of caring likely saved a life that day, and spared others from suffering the devastating loss of a parent.

The White Earth Reservation developed and implemented the Native Alive suicide prevention campaign with this type of situation, and this desired outcome, in mind.

Suicide Prevention and the Native Alive Campaign

The Native Alive campaign is one aspect of the Tribe’s overall strategy to address the issue of suicide. With the incidence of suicide increasing, both on the reservation and across the country, the Tribe recognized the necessity of such a program. Better information about risk factors for suicide added a sense of urgency. For example, the Indian Health Service (IHS), Division of Mental Health, identifies the leading factors behind suicide completions and attempts as drug and alcohol abuse and depression. Poverty, geographic isolation, lack of transportation and lack of parental employment are also contributing factors. These factors, directly or indirectly, impact many Native American families living on the White Earth Reservation and put them at greater risk for suicide.

Using funding from the IHS MSPI, White Earth created the Native Alive program to address suicide through education and increased access to mental health services. This two prong approach uses innovative programming and coordinates efforts with partner agencies. While the first three years of the program have been spent targeting adults in the community and employees of the Tribal Government, the program plans to expand its reach in year four, to include youth, as well as adults.

Native Alive Activities and Events

Native Alive kicked off their programming by offering a Gathering of Native Americans (GONA) event for all community members and White Earth Reservation Tribal government employees. This gathering provided culturally- specific suicide prevention training in the White Earth community, with the goal of providing support to each other through the healing process and helping each person to become a “Healthy Native Being.” GONA reflects on the four levels of life’s teachings: Belonging, Mastery, Interdependence and Generosity. To provide crisis response, Native Alive developed a Suicide Support Hotline utilizing volunteers from each of the communities on the White Earth Reservation. All of the volunteers received safeTALK and ASIST training before they began working the hotline and continue to get support and training on a monthly basis while they are involved in the program. Although the hotline was initially conceived as an entirely volunteer operated service, the hotline was recently integrated into the 24 hour Mental Health Crisis Line the Tribe operates, which is manned by mental health professionals. This change provides volunteers more support, ensures sustainability, and brings a greater breadth and depth of available resources to those in crisis. Volunteers now respond to calls along with mental health professionals, providing community members with additional support during the crisis and during follow up.

In addition to establishing and marketing the suicide prevention hotline, MSPI staff also spearheaded vital training in the community. White Earth Reservation trained seven individuals to become safeTALK trainers, resulting in over 250 individuals trained in safeTALK. Because the Native Alive campaign aims to provide as many prevention resources as possible, four individuals have also become ASIST trained. Those trainings are being offered on an on-going basis as well. Altogether, this exponential increase in knowledge on suicide prevention holds much promise for a future where every cry for help is recognized and answered.

Lessons Learned

The MSPI team at White Earth found that creating community “buy-in” is not always an easy task. Nevertheless, a community must be committed and invested in this type of initiative for it to work. The White Earth MSPI team coordinated with key people in each community on the reservation, to help introduce the Native Alive campaign. Creating these important partnerships ensures that Native Alive will take root and be sustained over time.

Next Steps for the Program

The White Earth MSPI team looks forward to year four of the initiative! The team plans to expand their target population to include youth on the reservation. Tanya Carter, Mental Health Practitioner for White Earth, said “We are excited for our youth to display their talents and get involved with suicide prevention.” Youth programming will focus on developing and marketing a youth- guided media campaign. Stay tuned for a fall kick-off...