Vice President Nez brings the message of resilience in combating suicide before tribal health convening

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Contact: Jared King
Communications Director
202-682-7390

For Immediate Release

Vice President Nez brings the message of resilience in combating suicide before tribal health convening

WASHINGTON—In a keynote address about combating suicide in Indian Country on July 25 at the National Indian Health Board’s (NIHB) American Indian & Alaska Native National Behavioral Health Conference, Vice President Nez told the story of the resilience of the Navajo people who marched on the Long Walk from the Navajo Nation to Bosque Redondo in 1864 and later returned to Navajo land in 1868.

“Navajo people did not give up. President Begaye and I tell this story to our children in schools we visited across the Navajo Nation. The Long Walk is a story of resilience that should inspire the next generation,” Vice President Nez said.

On June 25, President Russell Begaye and Vice President Nez signed a proclamation declaring June 2018 as Navajo Nation suicide, drug/alcohol and domestic violence awareness month. President Begaye serves as the Navajo Area Representative on the NIHB board of directors.

This year the Navajo Nation commemorated the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Navajo Treaty of 1868. “We are out there now talking to our Navajo people about what occurred after the signing of the treaty,” Vice President Nez said.

“Once we signed the treaty, we walked over 400 miles back to our homeland. The Navajo people returned to a place that was devastated. It was a scorched earth campaign led by the U.S. government. They destroyed our fields, farms, and homes. It didn’t end there. It was a time to rebuild our homeland,” the vice president said.

The vice president said, “Our people are losing hope and giving up their communities. We have high rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“We must come together and help each other, working together as one,” Vice President Nez said. The vice president commended the work of the staff of the Navajo Nation Department of Behavioral and Mental Health.

Three years ago we came together, the president and I with an increase in suicide when we got into office. Our first reaction was to seek help from our communities about how to address the issues of death. A lot of the answers to the problems are right there in our communities.

“We need to embrace our way of life, our way of life teachings of indigenous peoples and bring that message into the 21st century. It’s time where we help ourselves. You have to have that dialogue. It’s difficult when talking about suicide is taboo. In Navajo culture, you are not supposed to talk about death, but it’s happening.

On Nov. 30, 2015, President Begaye and Vice President Nez signed a proclamation creating the Building Communities of Hope initiative led by the Navajo Department of Health, Division of Behavioral and Mental Health Services, and the Division of Public Safety to address suicide prevention for Navajo people. The proclamation also designated the third week in December and second week of June as “Navajo Nation Suicide Prevention Week.”

“No one wanted to touch the subject of suicide, but we needed to have the discussion with our elders in the Navajo language and bring the message of resilience and perseverance into our schools. We visited many schools talking to young people letting them know about the Long Walk and the treaty. Don’t give up. You are strong people. You come from strong people who persevered and did not give up. Rather than talk about death, we talked about life. Let’s talk about how awesome life is and raise awareness to our people throughout the Navajo Nation, letting them know they’re important,” Vice President Nez added.

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