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Suicide in First Nations youth: Identity development & cultural collapse Michael Chandler (University of British Columbia) Chris Lalonde (University of.

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Presentation on theme: "Suicide in First Nations youth: Identity development & cultural collapse Michael Chandler (University of British Columbia) Chris Lalonde (University of."— Presentation transcript:

1 Suicide in First Nations youth: Identity development & cultural collapse Michael Chandler (University of British Columbia) Chris Lalonde (University of Victoria)

2 An Agenda In Two Parts Not counting time set aside for discussion at the end, my colleague Chris Lalonde and I each have been given approximately 40 minutes to share with you what has become more than a quarter of a century of collaborative research – research about youth suicide in Canada’s First Nations communities. We mean to divide up this task in such a way as to make it plain that something like “a social determinants approach to well-being” is demanded by the evidence in hand. More particularly, we intend to persuade you that the best hope for doing something constructive about the disturbingly high rates of youth suicide present in many Indigenous communities is that individualistic accounts of such tragedies will never ( could never) do. What more familiar individualized accounting strategies can not explain is that, not withstanding the fact that the overall suicide rate among certain of the world’s Indigenous groups is heartbreakingly high; it continues to be the case that, in many Indigenous communities, youth suicide is essentially unknown.

3 An Agenda In Two Parts It is this variability — this radical divergence in suicide rates from one Indigenous community to the next — that obliges us all to look beyond individual woes, and to direct attention to socio-cultural factors that drive up suicide rates in some communities and not others. Doing so is important, we will work to show, because the identification of community factors protective against suicide allows for the framing of intervention efforts that fall within the orbit and control of Indigenous communities themselves. In broad strokes, our way of dividing up these tasks is that I will begin by working to document that the high rates of youth suicide that mark certain First Nations communities are not uniformly distributed across the province of BC’s more than 200 distinct bands, but occur in some, but not other, of these cultural groups. Then Chris will follow with an account of our ongoing efforts to trace out those particular socio-cultural determinants that effectively distinguish bands with many suicides from others in which youth suicide if essentially unknown.

4 PART ONE In addition, and in advance of presenting hard evidence that youth suicide rates are not the same from one Indigenous community to the next, I want to say a few words about the conceptual framework that has guided our program of research. The focus of these efforts is on the process of ‘identity development,’ and how it plays itself out, not only at the level of individual youth, but with regard to whole Indigenous communities.

5 Self- & Cultural-Continuity In broad strokes we mean to argue: In PART ONE, that what holds each of us (as individuals) back from the prospect of suicide is that the very possibility of selfhood is temporally vectored, and necessarily requires that we each find ways of owning our own past and as yet unrealized future; & In PART TWO that, like individual persons, persistent peoples (e.g., groups with low to absent suicide rates) succeed as they do because they act to own their own shared past and collective future.

6 Self-Continuity and Youth Suicide I want to begin, then, by first saying something about: a)why the notions of selfhood and personal persistence are ‘constitutive conditions’ of individual identity; and b)Why, in the absence of ‘self-continuity,’ suicide becomes a live option.

7 The “One Self to a Customer” Rule If they are to remain recognizable as instances of what selves ordinarily taken to be, both individuals & whole cultural communities must satisfy at least two constitutive conditions: 1.Both are forced by the temporally vectored nature of our public and private lives to constantly change. 2.Inevitable change not withstanding, both individuals and cultures must be understood to somehow remain recognizably the same. As such, personal and cultural continuity (which embed both sameness & change) are not elective features of persons or whole cultural groups, but constitutive of their coming into being.

8 That is, without some notion of persistence, some way of identifying and then re- identifying one and the same person, all notions of self- or personhood would become nonsensical. As such, any person that did not own their own past and future would simply fail to satisfy the requirements of what persons are ordinarily taken to be. As William James put it:

9 Bows & Sterns “Life is like a skiff moving through time with a bow as well as a stern” William James The claim that the earlier and later manifestations of a life or culture must somehow count as belonging timelessly to one and the same continuant is true for at least two persuasive reasons: – One of which is quintessentially historical and backwards referring; – The other forward anticipating, and so all about securing our own as yet unrealized futures.

10 The link between Self-Continuity failures & Suicide Although continuity (whether at the level of single individuals or whole cultural groups) is, as James argued, both ‘backward referring’ and ‘forward anticipating,’ when efforts to maintain continuity fail, it is their failure to link to the future that especially connects them to suicide. Whenever such future prospects fade, life becomes cheap. Few individuals manage to maintain any stake in the prospects of a world that does not somehow include them, and whole cultural communities with no sense of ownership of their past or future similarly tend to wither and die. Whether these notions do in fact provide an interpretive frame, equally useful in accounting for suicides in both individuals and whole cultural groups is, of course, an empirical question.

11 The findings that have emerged from having individually interviewed some 400+ adolescents make it plain that almost all of these young persons confidently reported that they themselves were continuous, self-same, and numerically identical, despite many acknowledged personal changes. The single exception to what Flanagan (1996) has described as this otherwise general “one self to a customer rule,” was provided by those of our participants who were both hospitalized and marked as actively suicidal. As can be seen from an inspection of Table 1.

12 Self-continuity in suicidal and non-suicidal youth Type of continuity warrant by suicidal status 26 (63%)15 (37%)0 (0%) Control 3 (13%)18 (78%)2 (9%) Low 2 (11%)1 (6%)15 (83%) High More Complex (Level 3+) Less Complex (Levels 1 & 2) None Suicide Risk Continuity Warrant

13 Cross-cultural Comparisons The choice between narrativist and essentialist self-continuity warrants as culturally sanctioned “default strategies”

14 The final bit of evidence that I want to briefly summarize here is more about cultural differences in self-continuity warranting strategies than about suicidality per se, but it will prove useful in setting the stage for the data to be brought out by Chris. One sidebar piece of information that is important in making sense of these data is that while, as suggested above, rank and file young persons generally do hold to the view that they are continuous in time, their efforts to justify such claims ordinarily fall into one or the other of two broad categories that we have coded as being either Essentialist or Narrative-like in character.

15 A Typology Two solution strategies for solving the paradox of personal persistence: – Essentialist arguments: (Self as an enduring “entity”) Find some aspect or feature of the self that endures despite change in other quarters – Narrative arguments: (Self as a followable story) Identify relations that weave together the multiple time-slices of our lives

16 Urban / Rural Communities

17 Aboriginal Story Materials

18 Participants

19 Form of Self-understanding by Cultural Group Reliance upon “essentialist” Vs. “narrative” forms is strongly associated with culture

20 As can be seen from an inspection of the previous figure, respondents from the culturally mainstream relied primarily on Essentialist strategies for justifying their claims for personal persistence, while more than 80 percent of the First Nations adolescents made exclusive use of more Narrative strategies as their default solution to these same continuity problems. The argument to be developed below is that groups whose cultural narratives continue to be most savaged by ongoing colonial practices are just those communities with alarmingly high levels of youth suicide.

21 In short summary, what all of these bits and pieces of data are so far meant to make clear is that, at least at the individual level, the measured concept of self- continuity does in fact show some real promise in offering up a conceptual scheme useful in promoting a better understanding of suicide in individual youth. What remains open (and the question to which Chris Lalonde will shortly turn) is the weightier issue of whether this same conceptual machinery (these same considerations about persistence in the face of change) can also be brought to bear in illuminating efforts to understand variable rates of suicide in whole cultural communities. Before that, I want to spend my remaining minutes saying something brief about the epidemiology of suicide in BC’s First Nation youth.

22 The Epidemiology of Suicide in Aboriginal Communities Cultural Continuity as a protective factor against suicide among Aboriginal youth in Canada

23 First Nations Suicide Canadian First Nations suffer from the highest rate of suicide of any culturally identifiable group in the world First Nations suicide rate is 3 times higher than the rate for the general Canadian population First Nations youth are 5-20 times more likely to die by suicide than are their non- native peers

24 Population (British Columbia)

25 Suicides by Population

26 Population Statistics: Youth

27 Aboriginal suicide rates as actuarial fictions

28 British Columbia within Canada

29 British Columbia’s Area

30 Suicide by Census District

31 Youth Suicide Rate by Band ( )

32 Youth Suicide by Band ( )

33 Part II The Open Question What distinguishes First Nations communities with no youth suicides from those in which the rate is alarmingly high?


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