Aboriginal youth suicide and cultural continuity

Aboriginal youth in Canada have the highest suicide rate of any culturally distinct population in the world. In B.C., Aboriginal youth take their own lives twice as often as Aboriginal adults, and at a rate estimated at five to 20 times that of the non-native population. However, what these statistics fail to show is that rates of youth suicide vary dramatically across B.C.’s almost 200 Aboriginal bands. Ninety per cent of Aboriginal youth suicides occur in less than 10 per cent of the bands, and youth suicide is virtually unknown in a quarter of bands. Some Aboriginal communities are committed to their cultural past and invested in a shared future. For example, some Aboriginal bands have cultural facilities and a measure of communal control over health, education, policing and child welfare services. This cultural continuity has an impact on lowering suicide rates. Travis Proulx is investigating whether community efforts to teach Aboriginal youth their native language also predict future wellbeing. If young people who are competent in their native language are less likely to commit suicide or be involved in serious accidents, band councils and governments can use this information to design programs that build Aboriginal youth resilience and help prevent suicide.