Navajo Nation Leadership Declares State of Emergency after Spate of Suicides

State of Emergency declared on Navajo Nation after a spate of suicides in Montezma Creek, Utah

State of Emergency declared on Navajo Nation after a spate of suicides in Montezuma Creek, Utah

September is National Suicide Prevention Month

Published September 19, 2015

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZONA — On Wednesday, by a vote of 4-0, the Health, Education and Human Services Committee of the 23rd Navajo Nation Council unanimously agreed to accept the update by the Utah Navajo Health Systems, Inc.

UNHS Board of Directors declared a state of emergency after the recent spate of suicides that gripped the community. The organization is located in Montezuma Creek, Utah.

“The rash of suicides has shaken the communities that we serve. The emotional toll on everyone has been significant,” said Robert Whitehorse, board chairman.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and a call to action by the UNHS to work with the Navajo Nation on creating a safety net against the effects of suicide.

“We will work with other agencies to increase awareness, provide additional educational tools, de-stigmatize the illnesses and treatments, network with healthcare and mental health professionals and increase our presence with primary and secondary schools,” Whitehorse said.

The root causes of suicide include poverty, depression, bullying, alcoholism, drug abuse and other social conditions.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez have raised awareness on suicide prevention since taking office in May.

The fallout from suicide hit close to home for Vice President Nez, when a young male Navajo from his home community took his own life.

“Suicide is just not a problem on Navajo, it’s a problem throughout Indian Country,” he said.

Vice President Nez appreciated the declaration of emergency issued by the UNHS, an effort he saw as a proactive response.

He encouraged the HEHSC to submit a letter of support to OPVP requesting an emergency declaration so funding can be released to aid UNHS in the suicide prevention efforts. OPVP will begin the emergency declaration process.

In June, Vice President Nez reported before the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and provided suggestions on fighting suicide, namely the establishment of a national workgroup to begin planning.

He recommended that the workgroup not just be comprised of bureaucrats, but include tribal leaders from around Indian Country. The appointments to the workgroup are forthcoming, he added, and encouraged a member of the HEHSC to join.

Montezuma CreekSuicide is an unacceptable subject matter for Navajo people, but the discussion must take place, Vice President Nez said.

“Everywhere I go, I try to bring up suicide prevention for our young people. It’s mostly our young Navajo men that are taking their own lives,” he said. “How do we address that?”

He said intergenerational teaching between the elders and youth is the answer.

“Many of us were probably raised by our grandparents talking to us in Navajo, letting us know that his is how life is to be. But now, our younger generation does not understand the language and there’s a gap,” Vice President Nez said. “Language is the foundation.”

The next interdisciplinary team meeting on suicide response and post intervention will take place on September 22 at the Division of Dine’ Education Center.


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