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Eliza Lussier stands in front of a mural painted by her sister, Sarah Lussier, with assistance from Patrick Desjarlait Sr., at Red Lake High School. The poster Lussier is featured in is part of a promotional campaign to highlight Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board's suicide prevention initiative called THRIVE, funded by Indian Health Service.

Red Lake: 'Reaching out involves everyone'

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RED LAKE - Students at Red Lake High School are being reminded daily of the support their community has toward preventing bullying and suicides.

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Artist Sarah Lussier, a 30-year-old member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, and local art teacher Patrick Desjarlait Sr. recently painted a mural in the school as part of a suicide prevention initiative called THRIVE that started with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

The Board, a nonprofit organization that serves 43 federally recognized tribes in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, started a campaign to reduce suicide rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the Pacific Northwest by increasing awareness of the issue and by improving regional collaborations.

Since the campaign was started, THRIVE, which stands for "Tribal Health - Reaching out InVolves Everyone," has spread nationally.

The recently painted mural, named "Spirit of Hope," is located near Red Lake High School's front door and depicts people reaching out to support someone in need.

Lussier, who says she has had no formal training in art, said she has been interested in drawing as long as she can remember.

"I think this mural is a great way to collaborate with the community as an outreach project by addressing suicide and youth bullying," Lussier said in a news release. "I was proud to be selected and am pleased that my art work may be displayed on many reservations throughout the country and will hopefully call attention to bullying and suicide prevention."

Lussier's sister, Eliza, was photographed by a THRIVE campaign delegate standing in front of the mural, which will be used in promotional materials to be distributed nationwide to American Indian reservations.

In recent months, the Red Lake Indian Reservation has approached the matter of suicide as a community issue.

Eight years ago the reservation experienced a string of suicides by young people.

Mental health providers on the reservation sought ways to enhance suicide intervention beyond counseling and crisis prevention. Then, in 2005, the reservation experienced a high school shooting tragedy that resulted in 10 people being killed.

While devastating, the incident resulted in the start-up of new community initiatives on the reservation, as well as the formation of the Red Lake Youth Council.

Those efforts paid off, at least for a few years. From 2005 to 2007, no completed suicides were reported on the reservation, although there were still suicides being attempted.

But in the last four years, suicide has been on the rise, according to Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr.

Last year, 48 suicides were attempted and two suicides were completed on the reservation, Jourdain said.

In March, suicide survivor Arnold Thomas was asked to speak in Red Lake by the Red Lake Youth Council, a group of student leaders who decided suicide prevention and intervention needed to be spoken about at this year's Youth Leadership Conference.

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Pioneer staff reports
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