Yet, perhaps the most compelling evidence to date connecting cultural continuity – and specifically, language retention – with reductions in First Nation suicide rates came in 2007, from research team, Hallett, Chandler and Lalonde. Their analyses demonstrated that rates of language retention among First Nations had the strongest predictive power over youth suicide rates, even when held amongst other influential constructs of cultural continuity. Their conclusions hold shocking implications about the dire importance of native language preservation and retention efforts and interventions.
“The data reported above indicate that, at least in the case of BC, those bands in which a majority of members reported a conversational knowledge of an Aboriginal language also experienced low to absent youth suicide rates. By contrast, those bands in which less than half of the members reported conversational knowledge suicide rates were six times greater.”
It is important to drive this point home. In the First Nation communities where native language retention was above 50 per cent (with at least half of the community retaining or acquiring conversational fluency) suicide rates were virtually null, zero. Yet in the bands where less than half of community members demonstrated conversational fluency in their native tongue, suicide rates spiked upwards of 6 times the rates of surrounding settler communities.
Indigenous activists and supporters will call out the effects of colonisation and the great losses suffered by indigenous people as significant to the hopelessness that many indigenous people feel and which is externalised in suicide and self harming. And language and community and connection and knowledge are integral parts of the indigenous experience missing for many. The research detailed above suggests a strong connection between language use and suicide rates. We must do more research here to confirm what many of us have suspected - the cutting of cultural ties and the systemic belittling and isolating of indigenous people from their culture, especially youth, is a major factor in the very high rate of suicide among indigenous people.
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Explaining the source these crises is relatively straightforward. But communities know the solutions, too: authentic opportunities for the full reclamation of our identities – our languages, our cultures, our traditions and our relationship with the land and waters. This would require restored jurisdiction, honoured treaties, health care and education. This would bring an end to being forced to live in conditions of poverty.
We believe, and are supported by the Indigenous academic and policy research on suicide in First Nation and Inuit communities, that colonization is the problem. The obvious solution, then, is to end the colonization.This answer is not the one the majority in society want to hear, this answer gets in the face of those who would deny indigenous people their rightful place, that would deny tangata whenua the equal partnership via the Treaty. Listen to what we are saying - listen to those affected - listen to the solutions and then help put them in place. If not, then the horror thought that society just doesn't care about the suicide of so many indigenous people, will be proven.