Suicide Prevention Gathering Promotes Healing Among Native Youth and Communities
UNITY holds special UNITY Fire gathering on World Suicide Prevention Day
SEPTEMBER 14, 2016 – MESA, AZ – More than 40 Native youth and adults gathered last Saturday at the UNITY headquarters in Mesa, Arizona for a special evening that coincided with World Suicide Prevention Day. The UNITY Fire gathering, led by Sheldon Smith, Navajo, and Ron Interpreter, Navajo, offered prayers and explained the importance of the evening.
"There is an imbalance in the world. We are taught, in our Navajo philosophy and tradition, to find the light or positive in a situation. On this night, we will bring our hearts and minds together with the intentions to create ourselves. We are divine beings, with the power to create. That's how powerful we are. We are so unique, we can create a mindset to contribute to society and we can contribute to the world," said Interpreter.
Dr. Don Bartlette, Chippewa, flew in from Ohio to share his experience of being suicidal as a teenager. "I was sexually abused. I didn't want to live. I was 12 years old. I went to a bridge and I tried to jump but I could not. There were invisible arms holding me back," said Dr. Bartlette. He credits a non-Native woman who took him in and encouraged him as a young man. Despite the love and guidance he received, Dr. Barlette made poor choices as an adult. However, he credits God and his second wife for going on to lead a happy, healthy and productive life.
The concept of the UNITY Fire was introduced by a Seneca elder in 1995 for ceremonial, spiritual, and healing purposes. Each year since then, UNITY has kicked off its National UNITY Conference with the “Lighting of the UNITY Fire," which burns continuously throughout the conference. The UNITY Fire is considered a safe space for youth. Stories are told, songs are sung, and prayers are offered. It is at the UNITY Fire where youth feel the safest to share what’s on their hearts. In addition, the UNITY Fire has allowed youth and adults to connect, communicate, and begin the healing process.
Youth and adult participants included individuals from the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Navajo Nation and the San Carlos Apache Tribe, with many sharing personal challenges in their lives, and words of encouragement.
"We really appreciate the opportunity to attend UNITY Fire gathering. Our young people do so many amazing things in the community and sometimes we forget that they have their own struggles they deal with on a daily basis. Our youth had a positive experience while being a bit therapeutic for them to release some of their stress and helping them better connect with one another," said Candice Romero, former National UNITY Council Co-President, and now a Yavapai-Apache Nation Youth Council Advisor.
It is UNITY's hope that all its youth councils, and tribal communities, will consider hosting their own fire gatherings as a way of providing a safe place for community members to connect, communicate, and to support one another.
"The UNITY Fire has always impressed me by who and what the fire brings. The stories that have been told, the trials, the success, the pain, the happiness. People change and switch up on you and you can't go to them like you use to. But, the fire. The fire has been and always will be there whether you are experiencing pain in your life, or when it's the happiest day of your life. The fire will take all of it in and always will it only give out blessings," said Shante Slender, Navajo,a student at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
Established 40 years ago, the United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc., is a national organization that promotes personal development, citizenship, and leadership among American Indian and Alaska Native youth between the ages of 14 - 24. With one of the largest and oldest American Indian youth leadership networks in North America, UNITY has 160 affiliated youth councils in 36 states. Youth councils are sponsored by tribes, Alaska Native villages, high schools, colleges and other community organizations.