Rash of reservation suicides inspires local musicians to use song and verse to heal wounded psyches.
ST IGNATIUS – Little hands were clapping and the DJ station was bumping as Native American rap musicians took to the colorfully lit outdoor stage. “If you’re going through things life that are hard to deal with on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help,” local artist “Foreshadow” Devereux said to an audience of over 50 people of all ages. “You’re not alone in this. There are people who love you.”
Devereaux was one of six artists to perform at the “Healing Through Music” concert. He and Indigenous activist Court LittleAx organized the event to call awareness to the significance of mental health. “With all of the recent suicides on the Flathead Reservation over the years, there was an urge for me as an artist to use music to help,” Devereaux said. “We decided to base the show’s message on supporting mental health through music; using music as a healing tool.”
For the past 30 years, Montana has been ranked amongst the top five states for the highest suicides rates in the nation, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The situation is even more dire in Native American communities. Although making up only six percent of the state’s population, Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services reports that Native Americans account for the state’s highest suicide rates at 28.5 percent and the least access to mental health services.
Little Axe said the concert calls attention the mental health crisis that plagues Native communities. “Music has been utilized as a healing tool by Indigenous people since time immemorial, and we wanted to highlight the healing that it can still provide for our people; especially our youth,” she said. “The impact of western European ideologies has affected us for generations; even influencing the way we think, and have normalized harmful behavior by conditioning our people to suppress our emotions. Those ideologies have also discouraged us from adequately addressing difficult topics, because we are taught to conceal our feelings, and disregard situations that negatively impact us. Healing Through Music was not only used to create a comfortable, fun atmosphere to address those topics, but also to begin decolonizing, and Indigenizing our mindsets.”
A 2017 “Montana Racial Equality Report,” conducted by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Missoula and the Racial Justice Initiative reports that aside from suicide, Native American communities in Montana are overall suffering with mental and behavior health issues. “Contributions to these high rates are a combination of environmental and psychological factors, including social isolation, less access to services and help, alcohol consumption, and underlying mental illness such as depression,” the report states. “But for Native Montana communities, the high frequency of suicide has been particularly devastating in so many ways. The grieving process takes time, and with little time between tragedies, it seems Native Americans are always in a state of grief…Lack of support often leads to poor mental health and depression, or maladaptive coping skills such as substance abuse.”
Foreshadow and fellow artist Elair performed their song “Culture of Corruption,” which was inspired by a crisis of 20 suicides that occurred on the Flathead Reservation between 2016-2017. He reflected on the message relayed to the audience. “Everybody fights a different battle but we’re all in it together,” he said. “Nobody has to suffer alone. Also that you can use music to help cope with many different mental states. Whether you’re happy, sad, dealing with breakup, dealing with life in general, there is music for all of it.”