Reducing Indigenous suicide: Recognizing vital land and food systems for livelihoods

Emma Elliott*, Megan Bang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Colonial trauma poses a significant risk to the physical, intellectual, and mental health of Indigenous youth and young adults. Education and mental health scholars are increasingly concerned about the emotional wellbeing of young people, particularly as rates of suicide have increased across the United States. With interest in identifying the unique contextual dynamics involved in understanding Indigenous suicide, this work considers characteristics related to colonialism that may uncover strategies for both educators and mental health practitioners that address disparities. Drawing on a larger ethnographic study, this inquiry asks how settler encroachment upon Indigenous land and food systems is related to death by suicide from the perspective of Cowichan Tribes members. Comprehensive semi-structured interviews were conducted (n = 21); each interview was audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analyzed deductively based upon a priori suppositions related to settler colonial theory. Cowichan members' narrated explanations for suicide rooted in disruptions to (1) relationships with the land and (2) traditional food systems. They described how settler encroachment infringed upon their subsistence way of living and introduced incongruent constructions of nature-culture relations (e.g., humans as distinct and separate from the natural world). Settler futurity is secured through the arrogation of territorial dominance coupled with physical or conceptual acts of erasure, placing Indigenous lives and lifeways at risk. One outcome of the disruption to Indigenous collective capacities is a dramatic increase in Indigenous suicide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-279
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Community Psychology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Indigenous suicide
  • collective capacities
  • land and/or food systems
  • settler colonialism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Applied Psychology


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