This background paper presents an overview of suicide in Indigenous peoples in countries where there is a dominant White society. The countries identified for this background paper share similar colonial histories and all but Greenland have populations where the Indigenous population is significantly smaller in comparison to the non-Indigenous/mainstream population.
The countries reviewed for suicide rates were Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Canada, the United States of America, Greenland, and Scandinavian countries of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. These are all countries where the Indigenous peoples have elevated suicide rates compared to the non-Indigenous/mainstream population.
- In 2017, suicide remained the leading cause of death for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous children and young people between 5-17 years of age. Suicide accounted for 40% of all Indigenous deaths in this age bracket.
- While New Zealand’s general suicide rate has increased over the past four years (at the time of this report), Māori men are disproportionately represented in the statistics, with a 12 per cent increase of suicide deaths per 100 000 people in the last year, according to provisional data.
- Historically, suicide was a rare occurrence amongst Indigenous Canadian people, and it was only after contact with Europeans and the effects of colonialism that suicide became prevalent.
- Suicide rates for Native American and Alaska Native peoples aged 15-24 years are twice as high as nonIndigenous Americans at 27.22 suicide deaths per 100 000 people.
- Because Nordic countries do not allow registration of ethnicity, including Sámi identity; in public records, knowledge on suicide among Sámi is based on cohort studies comparing suicides in majority populations with those of Sámi ethnicity in Sámi areas in Norway.
- Rates of suicide in men are 4.3 higher than women in Greenland, with young men at the highest risk nationally.
Countries in which Indigenous people remain a dispossessed minority face considerable adversity, part of which includes the impacts of the history of colonisation. As Indigenous populations engage in processes of recovery and cultural reclamation, the processes of colonisation have left a legacy showing up as disadvantage, particularly in comparison to mainstream populations. These issues are shared by Indigenous populations across the globe. In particular, high rates of suicide are a shared issue. As colonisation is a social determinant of suicide, Indigenous peoples in nations with shared colonial histories are highlighted in this paper.
Suicide is complex and should be treated as such, including the ways in which the complex traumas of colonisation can contribute to suicide deaths in Indigenous communities living in colonised countries. By culturally contextualising suicide deaths for Indigenous people, this paper aims to collaborate information in these countries to better inform and strengthen suicide prevention.
It also needs to be noted that behind each number is a person, a family, and a community grieving the impacts of suicide.