NATIVE CONNECTIONS ALLIANCE

For the past 10 years, Oklahoma has had one of the highest rates of suicide within the United States. For a state that has a large American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) population, many tribes have been affected by the suicide epidemic.

Recent (2015) data from the Oklahoma Department of Health’s Violent Death Reporting System shows that AI/AN residents over age 10 died of suicide at the rate of 43 per 100,000 population, compared with the national average for all races of 13.3 per 100,000. The physical, psychological, social and spiritual toll upon AI/ANs is great.

Intervention after the fact of a suicide (postvention), will be an essential part of the plan to bring aid and comfort to survivors and to reduce the possibility of additional suicide. The project will focus on building protective factors that have been shown to reduce suicide. Native Connections will measure the number of suicide attempts and completions as well as indicators of depression and substance abuse among Native youth in the target communities. The project will be evaluated by staff TEC epidemiologists and a professional evaluator who has a strong relationship with the SPTHB and Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma (C & A’s).

The goals of this program fall within two of SAMHSA’s strategic initiatives: Prevention of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness, and Trauma and Justice:

  • Reduce the Impact of substance abuse, mental illness, and trauma on AI/AN communities through a public health approach
  • Allow AI/AN communities to support youth and young adults as they transition into adulthood by facilitating collaboration among agencies
  • Assess community needs and strengths related to the purpose of the grant
  • Identify and connect behavioral health services organizations existing in the community
  • Lead efforts to improve coordination among related services for tribal young people and their families
  • Identify gaps and develop a plan that the tribe will pilot in subsequent years of the grant
  • Address behavioral health conditions that affect learning in Bureau of Indian Education schools
  • Use strategies shown to be effective or promising in Native communities

We will use a universal prevention approach as well as the Community Readiness Assessment to develop a Strategic Action Plan that will guide our work throughout the grant.

The first year of our work will be devoted to the development of a coordinating committee led by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, then convening with this committee to monitor the incident of suicide and collaborate with any and all related resources within and outside the tribes.

Years 2-5 will be dedicated to reducing the number of Native suicide attempts within our Tribal Jurisdiction, developing a Tribal infrastructure that supports youth and young adults as they transition into adulthood by facilitating collaboration among agencies, and adopting mental health and wellness policies and fund a permanent Behavioral Health Unit to address suicide and substance abuse.


Native Connections is a joint effort between the SPTHB-TEC and the C & A Tribes of Oklahoma. The OKTEC brings administrative and subject matter expertise to assist the tribe to successfully implement programs, policies and practices that are founded upon a combination of evidence-based practices with traditional strength-based approaches that resonate withNatives.

The C & A tribal jurisdiction consists of several counties in went central Oklahoma. Tribal members live in a racially mixed community (not reservations), but Natives retain their cultural identity. There are also members of other tribes living in the area and a substantial number of bi racial persons that will also be served by the grant.

Blaine, Custer and Washita counties are very rural areas while Canadian County (the easternmost county) is a bedroom community for Oklahoma City.

When it comes to suicide prevention, mental health promotion, and substance abuse prevention in AI/AN communities, the challenges of behavioral health work in AI/AN communities span a variety of issues, including:

  • Need for accessible behavioral health care, grounded in the traditions of that community
  • Need for transparent, practical crisis protocols in an emergency and clearly defined follow-up procedures to care for youth at risk
  • Need for coordination among youth-serving programs in AI/AN communities
  • Need for tribal leadership support

Our efforts aim to empower our tribal partner to rely on evidence-based prevention practices and their tribal community through consulting with the Native Connections advisory council, elders, youth, and tribal leaders to help look at what is important to the Tribe in terms of cultural values, community norms and traditions.

With these cultural factors in mind, as well as information gained through the community needs assessment, our tribal partner can develop effective, comprehensive prevention programs that are based in community strengths, consider the importance of culture, and address the specific needs of youth in communities.

Research on youth resilience suggests risk factors of poverty, adverse childhood experiences, and trauma, including historical trauma, can be mitigated by the following experiences because they help build youths’ resilience. These experiences include:

  • a consistent relationship with at least one safe, caring, reliable, and competent adult who promotes high expectations and encourages self-improvement;
  • opportunities for constructive engagement in family, community, school, and other social institutions and productive decision-making;
  • adolescent voice, choice, and personal responsibility;
  • the development of self-regulation, self-reflection, self-confidence, self-compassion, and character.

Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or reckless
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk of suicide. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

What To Do

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

Resource: Office of the Surgeon General (US); National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (US). 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action: A Report of the U.S. Surgeon General and of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Washington (DC): US Department of Health & Human Services (US); 2012 Sep. Introduction. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK109906/

Project Coordinator – Shoshanna Johnson
Phone: (405) 589-4488
Fax: (405) 652-9205
Email: sjohnson@spthb.org