Indigenous Suicide and Colonization: The Legacy of Violence and the Necessity of Self-Determination

Keri Lawson-Te Aho, James H. Liu

Abstract


Contemporary indigenous first nations psychologists have developed an alternative frame for viewing suicide that not only shifts the focus from individual-level to group-level explanations, but challenges discourses that position group-level influences as "risk factors" that can be easily subsumed within standard repertoires for suicide prevention. First nations psychologists show the violent legacy of colonization has left a dark shadow on the contemporary lives of young people, so that around the world, suicide rates for indigenous peoples are much higher than for non-indigenous peoples in the same country. These arguments, which rely on historical accounts, cannot be neatly demonstrated using empirical data, but form an important part of a self-determination movement among indigenous peoples, directly challenging unequal power relations in society as a means to seek redress for particular issues of inequity like rates of youth suicide. We present a theoretical case study and analysis of contemporary suicide among Maori youth in New Zealand. In a traditional Maori conceptualization, individual well-being is sourced and tied to the well-being of the collective cultural identity. Therefore, individual pain is inseparable from collective pain and the role of the collective becomes that of carrying individuals who are suffering. The state of kahupo or spiritual blindness (Kruger, Pitman, et al. 2004) is characterized by a loss of hope, meaning, and purpose and an enduring sense of despair. It bears the symptoms of chronic dissociation or separation of the physical from the spiritual and vice versa. We describe community empowerment practices and social policy environments that offer pathways forward from colonization towards tino rangatiratanga, or indigenous self-determination, noting significant obstacles along the way.

Keywords


indigenous, self-determination, colonization, suicide, cultural identity

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DOI: 10.4119/UNIBI/ijcv.65

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