Open Letter to Native Youth

Content Warning: Mentions of Suicide

Dear Native Youth:

I am writing you today to remind you that you are sacred. Your life is meaningful. You were prayed into existence by those who walked this earth before you. You stand on the shoulders of your ancestors. With that, you carry the most powerful medicine: intergenerational strength. It is embedded in you; it runs through your blood.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. This month and always, we honor and remember our relatives and loved ones that we have lost too soon. We remember their light, love, and impact they made on ourselves and this world.

Suicide has disproportionally affected our Native children, families, and communities. It is the second leading cause of death for Native American youth. This reality exists among our people, but it does not define us. Ones we have lost have not been forgotten or overlooked.  

Native youth, we need you and your spirit; you are important.   

When times are stressful, overwhelming, or you feel like you may be losing yourself or your way, remember to lean into intergenerational strength to carry you forward. Additionally, here are other suggestions and resources:

1). Care for your spirit. Do what makes you feel your best for a healthy mental, spiritual and physical life. This might include eating traditional foods, moving and caring for your body through exercise, spending time in nature, visiting a special place, praying or making a list of things for which you are grateful.

2). Seek Support. It takes courage to be vulnerable and honest with your feelings, however, resources are available to help you. Family, culture and professionals can help you on your journey. Call an aunty or uncle, reach out to elders or cultural healers for guidance—don’t be afraid to ask them for encouragement and prayers. You can also turn to a medical professional to discuss your health. If you don’t know a medical professional or would feel more comfortable talking with someone else, that’s okay! You can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (also known as “SAHMSA”) treatment referral helpline at 1-877-SAHMSA7 (1-877-726-4727). Through this helpline, you can speak to someone confidentially about information on mental health and possibly locate treatment services in your area.

3). Contact. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, or is in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- 8255. There are trained crisis support staff available 24 hours a day and conversations are completely confidential. You can also chat online with a trained crisis worker. Staff can direct you to a crisis center in the Lifeline national network, which provides crisis counseling and mental health referrals.

When I was young, I was taught that you never walk alone, no matter how lonely you may feel; your grandmothers and grandfathers are always with you. I found such comfort, strength, and encouragement in this teaching and I offer it to you.  In closing, I want to invite you to join us at the Center for Native American Youth as we launch the Youth Are Medicine Campaign. We will be featuring Native youth in blog posts, host facilitated discussions on mental health, and will hold space for our loved ones impacted. If you have recommendations or resources to share with us, or wish to join in partnership with us, please contact We want to hear from you.

Native Youth, you are medicine and deserve to live and thrive with beauty and love.

With love and respect and admiration always,

Nikki Pitre

The Center for Native American Youth was founded to address Native American youth suicide, to empower young leaders, and to work with communities to address this important and pressing issue.