Inupiat youth suicide: a critical ethnography of problem-solving and response in northwest Alaska

Article English OPEN
Wexler, Lisa (2005)
  • Publisher: Co-Action Publishing
  • Journal: International Journal of Circumpolar Health (issn: 1797-237X, eissn: 1239-9736)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.3402/ijch.v64i2.17973
  • Subject: critical ethnography, Inuit, Inupiat, suicide, youth

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Inupiat youth in Northwest Alaska. The research aims to increase understanding of the social and cultural context of the act and generate ideas for suicide prevention in the region. The study utilizes action-research principles to engage youth, parents, professionals, and other community members in dialogue about suicide and investigate possibilities for prevention. Data gathering techniques for this study include surveys, chart review, and quantitative tracking of attempts, deaths and correlates. These data were summarized to provide an accurate description of regional suicide attempts, deaths and correlated factors. The aggregated information was used in an on-going manner to facilitate community-wide dialogue and local action. Throughout this process, ethnographic data was collected through focus groups, interviews, and participant observation. After the two-year project, these data were coded to identify themes and patterns of behavior for different groups in the region. The findings illustrate the ways that suicide and its prevention are publicly discussed, formally addressed and reacted to in everyday village life. These three areas are not easily reconciled because there are chasms separating Western and other ideas about suicide from its everyday meanings and from how it is responded to by individuals and villages. These discontinuities in meaning and practice limit the effectiveness of many efforts to prevent suicide. Reconciling these and focusing on the issues underlying Inupiat youth suicide will make prevention efforts more effective. Suggestions for how to do this fall into three basic categories—bridging the gaps separating suicide meanings and prevention practices; developing community purpose and means for achieving it; and by acknowledging each individual’s ability to contribute to their community and helping them do so. The rationale and possible means for accomplishing these are discussed.(Int J Circumpolar Health 2005; 64(2):191-191)Keywords: critical ethnography, Inuit, Inupiat, suicide, youth
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