Charles Cook, superintendent of Poplar Public Schools and James Melbourne, Tribal health director, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, signed this letter in response the Associated Press’ Matt Volz’ piece on the suicide epidemic on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
The pair argue that Volz missed many “positive” points of action the community, which has seen at least five suicides and dozen of attempts by middle school students in recent years, has taken to solve the horrific problem. The piece has been run in various newspapers, including several in the state of Montana.
Here’s Cook’s guest column:
Youth suicide is difficult to talk about. A recent newspaper article from the Montana Associated Press about suicides in our Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes and Poplar K-12 Schools was hurtful, misleading and unprofessional. How we talk about suicide can leave a deep impact.
Everyone is fragile after such tragedies. Experts agree – and our experience confirms – grieving periods leave some vulnerable, including those who knew the victim or who may be likely to attempt. When reporting on suicide, photos of grieving families, detailed descriptions of death and provocative quotes represent irresponsible journalism. It is exploitive and offensive. The reporter’s decision to write this story, despite requests not to, and his decision to overlook many positive actions in our community also shows a lack of respect.
Here are some points the story missed. Our tribe is implementing many recommendations from a 2010 Indian Health Service Report issued after the suicides. For example, the report noted youth requesting more recreation activities. Our Fort Peck Youth Activity Committee is expanding such programming. We applied for grants from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Education. Community suicide prevention walks have occurred. We also conducted prevention trainings such as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and Native HOPE (Helping Our People Endure).