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Fort Belknap officials declare state of emergency after increase in suicides

Posted at 3:15 PM, Jul 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-22 18:10:46-04

FORT BELKNAP – The Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC) Council has declared a state of emergency after a dramatic uptick in youth and adult suicides over the last year and a half.

According to the emergency declaration, released on social media by the Fort Belknap Reservation Thursday, the community has “experienced an unusually high rate” of suicides in the past 18 months, resulting in the loss of the lives of “many tribal members, of different ages.”

In response, the FBIC Council issued a state of emergency to raise awareness within the community and relate the direness of the situation to “state and federal partners.” In the social media post, Fort Belknap Reservation officials wrote the move would better position the tribe to apply for state and federal funding to address what they identified as a “crisis.”

The FBIC Council made clear that “suicide and related behavioral health issues” can traumatically impact tribal members, “while threatening the overall safety and well-being of individuals” in the surrounding community. The FBIC Council also governs the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes.

National research and studies conducted by Native American communities, the declaration states, “share a common finding that generational suicide impacts are connected to trauma from past United States federal termination policies.”

A 2017 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found the young American Indian and Alaskan Native demographic has been statistically proven to exhibit “alarmingly high suicide rates” in some tribes, which can result in suicide contagion, or “clusters,” if not properly addressed.

The emergency declaration also cited an influx in illegal drug activity on the Fort Belknap Reservation. The spike is having an “overflowing effect,” officials wrote. They also cited a lack of resources to address the rise in illegal substance trafficking.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 by telephone at 1-800-273-8255 or via online chat here.