A #Justice4Ashlea sign is seen at a vigil for Ashlea Aldrich at the Lincoln Indian Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, on January 11, 2020. Authorities continue to investigate the death of the 29-year-old Native woman. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

'We’ve got to pay attention': Omaha Tribe declares emergency amid health and safety crisis

The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska declared a state of emergency last week following three suicides and several suicide attempts among its youth over the past few weeks.

The tribal council issued the resolution last Tuesday, vowing to direct tribal resources toward addressing suicide, methamphetamine use and domestic violence.

“The Omaha Tribe is under immediate risk to health, wellbeing and life that requires urgent intervention to prevent worsening of the situation,” the tribal resolution said.

The resolution called for the state of emergency to last until April 18, at which time a comprehensive plan to address the crisis would be presented. The tribe also planned to seek state and federal aid to address the crisis.

“We make a call out to all our spiritual leaders for prayers for our people,” the resolution said.

The Omaha Tribe declared a state of emergency on February 18, 2020. The vote in favor of the resolution was 5 to 0.

The tribe’s resolution seemed to reference the early January discovery of the body of 29-year-old Ashlea Aldrich, an Omaha woman, in a field on her tribe’s northeast Nebraska reservation.

Aldrich and her family had expressed concerns about domestic violence to Omaha tribal leaders before her death. But tribal leaders failed to take meaningful action on those concerns, the woman’s mother, Tillie Aldrich has said.

Tribal and federal authorities are investigating Aldrich’s death.

Aldrich's mother blamed her daughter's death on domestic violence, an act committed by someone known to the family and to local law enforcement. She told Indianz.Com this week that a man is in tribal jail and has been charged with criminal homicide and other crimes, though tribal authorities could not be reached for confirmation.

A photo shared by Ashlea Aldrich's sister shows the resting place of the 29-year-old Native woman. " Everything was beautiful just like her. Today is day two of grieving and it’s still unbearable pain" Ayssa Aldrich wrote on GoFundMe.

Earlier this week, the Omaha Tribe’s Carl T. Curtis Health Education Center offered walk-in crisis sessions with crisis counselors. The tribe also offered the services of clinicians from Morningstar Counseling, a Native-owned behavioral health firm.

The tribe urged anyone dealing with suicidal thoughts to contact Millicent Wolfe at (402) 385-8724.

“Please reach out,” the tribe wrote on its Facebook page. “You are not alone. We are here to listen and help however we can.”

This week, friends and family of the cousins who committed suicide flooded social media with expressions of grief and calls for prayers and solutions.

“Please say prayers for our reservation,” one woman wrote. “Our community is going through a hard time. We lost two beautiful Umohon Children within a week.”

Another page also called for prayers. “There are also reports of other young people in the tribe who are in ideation of suicide as well. … There is POWER in PRAYER so please share!”

Terry Medina brought his prayers to the Omaha people on Wednesday night.

The probation officer said he hosted a listening and prayer circle at the request of several Omaha tribal citizens. After smudging those gathered, Medina passed around an eagle feather and people shared their concerns and prayers.

Many cried as they talked about the recent suicides and attempts.

Medina said he plans to host another listening circle on Tuesday night at the HoChunk Center in Winnebago starting at 5:30 p.m. He said many parents on the Winnebago and Omaha reservations are fearing for their children’s safety.

The 64-year-old youth mentor said it’s important for Native parents to listen to their children and spend time with them. Many parents have to work late at the tribal casino and don’t see their children until late in the evenings or briefly in the mornings, he said.

The administrative building of the Omaha Tribe in Walthill, Nebraska. Photo: Ali Eminov

He said many of the young men he works with in a juvenile detention program in Sioux City, Iowa, talk about how their parents don’t talk to them or tell them they love them.

One boy said: “Man, I feel like I’m invisible. No one ever listens to me. No one.”

Medina said suicide is the only way some young people feel they can get the attention they crave.

“Our children are literally killing themselves for attention,” he said. “We’ve got to pay attention.”

He said empowering Native parents to listen to their children and become role models, alcohol- and drug-free, is vital to ending youth suicide within tribal communities.

“We don’t need more police officers, more detention centers, more jails, more therapists,” he said. “We need the fathers and mothers to stand up and be the untapped resource in their tribal communities and lead their families.”

'We are all in this together'
The Omaha Tribe issued a public statement on February 16, 2020, following the deaths of young people in the community to suicide.

"It is with heavy hearts that we are filled with great sorrow, again, we are feeling the detrimental sufferings within our communities," the statement read. "We acknowledge the hurts of our people and pledge to do our best in improving our community’s health, safety, and well-being. We are all in this together."

February 16, 2020 PUBLIC STATEMENT Friends and Relatives of the Umonhon Tribe, we as the Governing Body express our...

Posted by Omaha Tribe of Nebraska on Sunday, February 16, 2020

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
'When they do turn for help, nobody believes them': Native women hold vigil in honor of Ashlea Aldrich (January 14, 2020)
'This is one of the most heartbreaking issues': Young Native woman's death tied to domestic violence (January 10, 2020)
Death of woman on Omaha Reservation under investigation (January 8, 2020)