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Native Americans
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Homicide and Suicide Among Native Americans, 1979-1992
Violence Surveillance Summary Series, No. 2

Executive Summary 
From 1979-1992, 4,718 American Indians and Alaskan Natives (Native Americans) who resided on or near reservations died from violence--2,324 from homicides and 2,394 from suicide. During this 14-year period, overall homicides rates for Native American were about 2.0 times higher, and suicide rates were about 1.5 times higher, than U.S. National rates. Native Americans residing in the southwestern United States, northern Rocky Mountain and Plains states, and Alaska had the highest rates of homicide and suicide.

Both homicides and suicides occurred disproportionately among young Native Americans, Particularly males. From 1990-1992, homicide and suicide alternated between second and third rankings as leading causes of death for Native American males 10-34 years of age. For Native American females aged 15-34 years, homicide was the third leading cause of death. Almost two-thirds (63%) of male victims and three-quarters (75%) of female victims were killed by family members or acquaintances.

Firearms were the predominant method used in both homicides and suicides. From 1979-1992, just over one-third of Native American homicide victims were killed with a firearm, with firearm-related homicide rate among Native American increasing 36% from 1985-1992. Firearms were used in nearly 60% of Native American suicides.

Several distinctive characteristics of violent death among Native Americans emerged from this study:

  • The age distribution of suicide rates for Native Americans is quite unlike that for the general population, because of the high rates among young adults and lower rates among the elderly.
  • Although firearms are the predominate method for both homicides and suicides, Native Americans have a lower proportion of firearm-related homicides and suicides than found in the U.S. population.
  • The proportion of homicides in which the victim and perpetrator were family members or acquaintances is somewhat greater for Native Americans than for the U.S. population at large.
  • Patterns and rates of homicide and suicide among Native Americans differ greatly from region to region.

There are many promising interventions to prevent violence, but because each Native American community is unique, prevention strategies should be planned with careful attention to local injury patterns and local practices and cultures. Given community differences and the multiple and complex causes of homicide and suicide, a simple and uniform approach is inappropriate. Success will come only through a variety of interventions, tailored to the specific local settings and problems. Also essential is continued surveillance and evaluation of the effectiveness of the prevention programs that are put into place.

The information in this report should be useful to public health practitioners, researchers, and policy makers in addressing the problem of homicide and suicide among Native Americans.

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This page last reviewed 09/07/06.

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