Grantmaking and Grantee Stories

Sarah Owl Denetsosie is a member of a small army of those dedicated to preventing the tragedy of suicide on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.“They called it ‘The Murder Capital of Colorado’,” laments Ute Mountain Ute member Sarah Owl Denetsosie. “There was a lot of violence on the reservation – a lot of deaths from alcohol, accidents, murder and suicide.”

In 2006, when U.S. attorney Troy Eid publicly reviewed the statistics for violent crime in the southwestern Colorado Ute Mountain Ute nation in Towaoc, near Cortez in Montezuma County, the murder rate was more than 25 times higher than the state average.

Denetsosie recalls the many tribal members who had died by suicide. According to a report published in 2002 by The Colorado Trust and the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention, the mean suicide rate for the state between 1991 and 2000 was 16.74 per 100,000 people. In Montezuma County during that period, the rate was 22.78.

In May 2006, coordinators of a Montezuma County neighborhood network called the Piñon Project, a grantee of The Colorado Trust’s Preventing Suicide in Colorado Initiative, held a suicide prevention training course at the Ute reservation. Over 20 tribal members attended. The Native Americans – who are traditionally uncomfortable talking about death – found themselves learning the vocabulary of suicide prevention.

For two days, Denetsosie and fellow tribal members were trained to use an intervention process called ASIST – Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. Developed at the Centre for the Prevention of Suicide in Calgary, Canada, the training prepares participants to either refer members of their community to health care professionals, or to help them come up with a so-called “safe” plan themselves.

In rural southwestern Colorado, access to mental health care professionals is limited. Patients who need a 72-hour suicide watch have to be transported out of the area to Durango, Grand Junction or Pueblo. The ASIST training on the Ute reservation has provided a link to these services and the chance to get help from someone as local as a neighbor.

“I learned about myself through this training,” says Denetsosie. “I wouldn’t have known what to do if I didn’t go through this training.”

Denetsosie vividly remembers the day she got a call that put all her ASIST training to use.

“The woman was intoxicated and crying hysterically,” recalls Denetsosie. “I asked her to be patient and told her that I would send someone to her home … I called her mother who lives just one house away.”

Denetsosie also called the woman’s former co-worker, the tribal police and the woman’s sister who came to the house to take the children. A “safe” plan was established for the woman, which included reconciling with her addiction to alcohol. She was also assured that her children needed her – alive.

Denetsosie is a member of a small army of those dedicated to preventing the tragedy of suicide on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. The recovery of those who considered taking their lives sustains her.

“The best part of this training is seeing a person smiling, going on with their life,” she says. “It’s just like it never happened.”

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