The obituary in the small town paper was heartbreaking: Chase Albert “Beka” Lussier, born Dec. 23, 1989, died March 21 at Red Lake High School. A freshman who played basketball and loved computer games. Six paragraphs down, beside the photograph of a chubby-cheeked, smiling boy, came this sentence: “He spent his time juggling life between his family and his son.”
A father at 15. Dead three months later. Shot with eight others by an alienated, despondent upperclassman who, at the end of his 10-minute walk through Red Lake High School, turned one of his guns on himself.
The deaths, conspicuous in their senselessness, highlight the problems that American Indian teenagers have been quietly suffering in greater numbers than most adolescents: suicide, violence, depression and pregnancy.
By themselves, the numbers for the Red Lake Indian Reservation are staggering. A state survey conducted last year of 56 ninth-graders showed that 81 percent of the girls, and 43 percent of the boys, had considered suicide.
Nearly half the girls said they’d actually tried to kill themselves. Twenty percent of boys said the same numbers about triple the rate statewide.
Nationwide figures show that American Indian teenagers commit suicide at three times the national rate; are involved in alcohol-related arrests at twice the national average, and die in alcohol-related incidents at 17 times the national average.
They are third-highest in teen pregnancies, behind Hispanics and blacks.