By Britta Schmitz
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2016 – Indigenous People suffer from
disproportionately high suicide rates and rates of self-harm among young people.
“It is not an issue that is associated with just one part of the globe, it is all over,“
Joseph Goko Mutangah, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from
Kenya, said at a press conference.
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, established in the year
2000, urges to address the issue of suicide and self-harm among young indigenous
“I don’t understand how we have gotten to the point where we have all these
structures, we have indigenous people included in the UN and we have governments
that support our rights and our communities and we’re still struggling,“ Sarah Lynn
Olayok Jancke, Arctic Focal Point to the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus from
The young Inuit woman urged UN representatives to take a holistic approach when
discussing the issue, as indigenous communities used to be holistic and inclusive
“Every factor of your society, whether it’s lands, language, culture, spirituality,
animals, those were all determining factors of who you were as a person and they are
all interconnected. And now, where we are, there is a total disruption in all of those
factors of who we are,“ Olayok Jancke said. “All of these factors are slowly eating
away and creating intra-generational drama.“
Intra-generational dialogue seems to be an important part of the solution to the issue
of suicide and self-harm. The elders of indigenous communities are the holders of
cultural values, information, tradition and knowledge. They have to be empowered to
teach their young generations about these values.
“The elders must work with the youth,“ Goko Mutangah said. “There is a disconnect
between the current generation and the past generations. I talked to one of the young
ladies just out there, she is from here, from Texas, and she tells me that there was a
kind of information erasing when colonization came in. And because of that they feel
like they are floating, they have no base where they can set their cultures and
Olayok Jancke added she also believes in working with the middle generation, which
she likes to call elders in training.
“They will be the elders of the next generation. So we need to recognize the whole
community and the whole perspective and build a system that creates the continuity of
Geographical and cultural isolation make it difficult for young indigenous people to
find help. They have a limited access to services for young people, such as adequate
health and mental care. Young indigenous people often struggle with their identity,
feeling stuck between the culture of their indigenous communities and the mainstream
society of the country they live in.
“The reality is that our people are suffering, they are struggling with their identity,
they are struggling to find a place for who they are in this world, as indigenous
people, and even if they are sitting in their home communities or they are displaced
from their land. In their mind, in their mental state, in their physical state, they cannot
identify with themselves, where they fit into this,“ Olayok Jancke said.
There are about 370 million indigenous people in the world and an estimated 67
million indigenous people between 15 and 24. As indigenous people often have a
higher proportion of young people in their communities than their nation’s average,
this figure might be higher. The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues called upon
UN bodies to invest in research related to the prevalence and causes of suicide among
young indigenous people.
“We often feel alone. The loneliness and the isolation comes right down to one
individual person. And I don’t think that that real face is on there,“ Olayok Jancke
said. “We are suffering in silence.“
The Inuit woman would like to see further engagement with the initiative she is
committed to, as the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus has direct access to the
“We have to create a vision for where we want to be, because right now we are just