Montana’s U. S. Sen. Jon Tester said Tuesday that while the federal government can’t provide the solution to rising suicide rates of youths on Indian reservations, but it can be part of the solution.
“I think it really starts with people working together in the communities, ” he said in an interview in Havre.
Tester chaired a field hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in Poplar to hear testimony about suicides in Indian Country. Fort Peck Indian Reservation declared an emergency last year after six youths committed suicide and another 20 attempted suicide.
Tester said the suicide rate on reservations — Fort Peck has 10 times as many suicides as the average rate — has to be dealt with.
“It’s a big problem, unfortunately, and that’s not just from my lips, it’s a proven fact, ” he said.
He said the solution must come from within, with people working with agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Services, tribal councils, state government and the educaiton system.
Tester said one student who testified during the hearing said that many young people have no one to turn to when they are troubled or have troubles.
“And that’s a problem, ” Tester added.
He said one idea that could help has been raised by the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council.
That idea is to develop people from within the reservations that youths can turn to, people they trust.
Tester said the way to find those people could be to interview the students themselves, find out who they believe would be good candidates, peers students could turn to when they have troubles and are troubled mentally or psychologically.
“Ask them, ‘who do you trust, ’” Tester said.