Recent suicides in Navajo Nation leads to state of emergency declaration

Posted at 6:19 PM, Sep 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-21 20:19:01-04

MONTEZUMA CREEK, Utah – Leaders of the Navajo Nation are tackling the issue of suicide as a number of suicides have shaken the small southeastern Utah community of Montezuma Creek in recent weeks.

In the past six weeks, the tight-knit community has lost two teens and two adults to suicide, prompting health leaders to issue a state of emergency. The last time Montezuma Creek residents dealt with a suicide was 10 years ago.

“It seems like when one suicide takes place, you’ll have others that will follow,” Navajo Nation Pres. Russell Begaye told FOX 13 News Monday.

Begaye spoke to FOX 13 News over the phone from Washington D.C. where he is meeting with the Department of Health and Human Services. The recent deaths weigh heavy on his heart.

“Each life is precious to us and they’re valuable to us,” Begaye said.

The Utah Navajo Health Systems, based out of Montezuma Creek, is taking the situation seriously by declaring a state of emergency.

“You can’t say this is some brand new problem it’s just cause we’re a small community collectively these tragic events in the last two or three months, it’s maybe brought it more to people’s awareness,” said Rick Hendy, director of behavioral health at UNHS.

While they can’t pinpoint why suicides are on the rise, they notice one similar factor – the pollution of the San Juan River due to the Gold King Mine spill back in August.

“The pollution from the river has been, it sorta (sic) wears on everybody,” Hendy said. “People so value the water, the river, Navajo people do. I think the stress knowing that it’s polluted and frankly there are still some unknowns.”

By declaring a state of emergency, leaders are vowing to work closely with agencies to ensure those with mental health issues get the proper treatment, and do more in schools to reach kids before it’s too late.

“We need to tell our young people to look forward to the many years before them. And not take their life; one life is way too much,” said Jonathon Nez, vice-president of the Navajo Nation.

Leaders feel like the younger generation is losing touch with the Navajo culture and language and may not feel like they belong, which could also contribute to the rising suicide rates.

They’re calling on the Obama Administration to fund much needed programs to help their people.