Members of a Tanana 4-H club display their anti-suicide pledge at the Elders and Youth Conference in Fairbanks.
Members of a Tanana 4-H club display their anti-suicide pledge at the Elders and Youth Conference in Fairbanks.

A 4-H club from Tanana addresses the issue of suicide by speaking out

A group of seven 4-H’ers from Tanana showed courage at the Elders and Youth Conference in Fairbanks by speaking in personal terms about suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence. 

Accompanied by their volunteer leader, Cynthia Erickson, the kids held signs with messages such as ”My dad’s suicide,” “Alcohol and Drugs” and “Family Death.” They also talked about their experiences — losing a father and uncle to suicide, sexual assault and family lives disrupted by drugs and alcohol.

The group received a standing ovation, hugs and support from the audience. They were also invited to give their presentation before the full Alaska Federation of Natives convention. Both audiences repeated an anti-suicide pledge the youth have developed:  “I pledge to live, honor and protect myself from any harm, to love my life, my friends and my village."

Mara Bacsujlaky, who coordinates the rural 4-H program, said the presentations represent years of work by Erickson and 4-H. Volunteer martial arts instructors have worked with the youth for three years to build confidence, and several youth have participated in national 4-H leadership conferences.

After the presentation, 14-year-old Natawnee said, “It was amazing how people react to us seven kids talking — and actually listening to us.”

See the video about their presentation: Tanana 4-H: Breaking the Silence.

FYI ...

  • The pledge is now recited before every community event in Tanana. Alaska State Troopers carried the pledge with them this past spring as they toured villages delivering anti-suicide presentations.
  • The 4-H mentoring program that supports 4-H in Tanana relies on finding volunteers who bring 4-H activities to youth in rural communities. Programs exist in Minto, Nenana, Fairbanks, Eagle, the Bristol Bay region and Dillingham.
  • Around one-fifth of 4-H participants live in remote, rural Alaska, from Angoon and Bethel to Nome.
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