WASHINGTON-Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez recently discussed suicide - what he called "a very serious issue in Indian country" - with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, federal officials, and members of the Secretary's Tribal Advisory Committee.
The committee includes one primary representative from each of the 12 areas of the Indian Health Service and five at-large representatives.
Nez recommended establishing a workgroup to review existing approaches and to develop a comprehensive, flexible approach based on culture, language and community. The workgroup would include youth representatives from the 12 IHS areas.
"I appreciate the secretary for raising this issue to this committee," Nez said. "It's a discussion we all need to have in Indian country. This subject is taboo in many of our cultures. We don't talk about suicide. We need to engage in in-depth discussions about suicide in Indian country and develop and deliver solutions for our people.
Nez said the suicide issue is personal for him. He shared a story of a young Navajo man who was set to graduate from high school in May, but instead took his own life.
"So many questions were raised because of this tragedy," Nez said. "We need to have this discussion to better understand the impact of historical trauma, alcohol and substance abuse, high unemployment in our communities and the lack and promotion of faith based programs such as traditional healing practices."
He emphasized the need for more investment in language preservation programs.
"With language comes a sense of pride and we need our young people to be proud of who they are," Nez said. "Learning their Native language is another solution, especially as a way for our youth to engage with elders and traditional medicine people."
Other topics included the upcoming White House Native Youth gathering, which is part of President Obama's Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative and the administration's commitment to improve the lives of Native youth across the country.
Obama launched the Gen-I initiative at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference to focus on improving the lives of Native youth through new investments and increased engagement. This initiative takes a comprehensive, culturally appropriate approach to ensure all young Native people can reach their full potential.
Nez extended an invitation to Burwell to attend the Kayenta Health Center grand opening scheduled for late summer or early spring.