PINETOP, Ariz. - On Sept 17-18 the Native American Suicide Prevention and Awareness Coalition (NASPAC) held its Sixth annual Mbrace Life Summit to bring attention to the suicide crisis on Indian reservations. In conjunction with the Northern Arizona Behavioral Health Association (NARBHA), this year's event was a success.
Held on the White Mountain Apache Reservation's Hondah Casino and Resort, Native Americans in substance abuse and wellness programs throughout the state attended to hear presentations from speakers and held breakout sessions to give information on ways to address this crisis.
Tee White, a Navajo Tribal member and NASPAC president, gave the introduction and served as emcee of the event. The first day started with a testimonial from a Navajo couple who lost their son under tragic consequences and related that he just needed someone to talk to about issues. When social workers were called, they didn't have time so they rescheduled for the following week. By the time the social worker called back, it was too late. They implored the people in attendance to always make every effort to avoid tragic events like theirs.
The keynote speaker was Mona Polacca, a member of the Grandmother's Council, which is made up of 13 grandmothers worldwide who promote Indigenous culture.
A member of the Hopi-Tewa and Havasupai tribes, Polacca has been in the field of alcoholism and substance abuse for almost 30 years and has developed substance abuse programs for tribal youth. She started her presentation by playing music and stated that the music reaches the heart of everyone. She commented that the clan system connected Native Americans to their ancestors and she thanked the ancestors of the White Mountain Apaches for hosting the event in their ancient land.
She stressed that intervention and prevention should always include Native beliefs and that was more effective in treating Native Americans in addition to spending more time with youth. Many kids spend time distracted and that if children learn more about their cultural activities, it helps families and communities. She went to a community and asked the youth what they valued most and it was their cultural traditions such as the sweat lodges, teepees, corn fields and other things in their tribal lands. She stated that people have to make the decision take make their communities better.
She pointed out that in San Carlos, they used to give away beer for paying back for helping in ceremonies. Then the elders and spiritual leaders disapproved and stopped that practice. Tribes have proclaimed drug and alcohol free zones at powwows and gatherings - a more positive way to wake up the Native spirit once again.
During the lunch break, local fifth and sixth graders performed dances for the attendees. After lunch attendees went to their choice of breakout sessions. A session was presented by Cheryl Neskahi Coan from the Southwest Indigenous Women's Coalition in Phoenix. She concentrated on the historical trauma that Natives have experienced and the need for understanding in "Reconnecting Life and Healing." She spoke of the different periods of Native American subjugation from extermination, termination to reservations, assimilation and relocation. These policies of the government have caused great stress on the Native peoples and need to be understood in order start the healing process.
Two Navajo brothers, Lyle and Lamonica "Bry" Claw, founders of CLAW, Inc. spoke about their experiences with drug and alcohol and the experiences that helped them get clean and sober.
After experiencing alcohol and substance abuse on the Navajo Reservation, younger brother Bry was in deep legal trouble and moved to Alaska to see if he could get his life together. While in Alaska, he had a spiritual awakening where he was told by a voice to do the right thing and get sober. He had planned to stay for only six months but ended up staying for eight years and was able to heal.
Lyle gave his testimonial about being a meth user and dealer in Window Rock. He nearly died of an overdose. It was then that he, too, had a spiritual awakening and called out to God for help and got a second chance. In the grips of detox, suicide crossed his mind and out of the blue, his sister called from Alaska. He moved there and had a spiritual awakening after walking in the woods and following a squirrel to a spot where he felt a higher power pulling out the pain and sickness of his body.
After that experience, he was healed and now makes presentations to the community about the dangers of meth. For more information about CLAW, Inc., visit www.clawinc.org.
The next day had only one session and was closed by Novalene Goklish and Francene Larzele representing the White Mountain/John Hopkins University, Celebrating Life Youth Suicide Prevention Program. They gave heartfelt testimonies of the tragedies they face in their communities. It is a difficult job, but they are dedicated to the work they do. Despite the difficult work they do, they say laughter helps them get through. They can be reached at (928) 338-5215.
Planning will start soon for next year's event. NASPAC takes care of coordinating event speakers such while NARBHA provides technical and financial assistance. The speakers are from northern Arizona tribes, but participants come from throughout the state.