Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Cankdeska Cikana Community College: Wiconi Ohitika (Strong Life) Youth Suicide Prevention Project

The Wiconi Ohitika (Strong Life) Youth Suicide Prevention Project is an educational and community mobilization campaign that aims to reduce risk factors contributing to high rates of substance abuse and suicide in the tribal community by increasing young peoples’ connections to family and community through cultural strengthening activities. It is a culturally enriched approach to youth suicide prevention, based on the culture, language, values, and history of the Spirit Lake Dakota (Mni Wakan Oyate). Through cultural strengthening activities and culturally appropriate strategies, Wiconi Ohitika strives to promote positive self-identity, increased self-esteem, and increased knowledge of the Dakota way of life among 10- to 24-year-olds living within Spirit Nation.

Wiconi Ohitika implements various awareness strategies, including public service announcements, posters, and videos through Good Health TV (a closed-circuit system within the Indian Health Service) and other channels. Community members, including elders and traditional healers, are represented in many media products. Additionally, the project uses the Question, Persuade and Refer Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention and the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training to increase adults’ capacity to identify at-risk youth and make referrals. It conducts classroom guidance with youth, using culturally based activities, the American Indian Life Skills, and Sources of Strength.

The Spirit Lake Suicide Prevention Coalition guides the program’s work and protocols, including a crisis plan that clarifies the community response to suicidal ideation and behaviors, as well as various community activities (e.g., the annual Wellbriety Walk to increase awareness of substance use and mental health issues and increase knowledge about available resources). The Coalition includes representatives from substance abuse prevention and intervention programs, juvenile court, police force, schools, the Indian Health Service, the regional public mental health program, community elders, the faith community, and many other organizations and interested individuals.

With funding from SAMHSA’s FY2014 Subcontracts to Build Evaluation Capacity for Evidence-Based Interventions, Cankdeska Cikana Community College will enhance the evaluation of the Wiconi Ohitika (Strong Life) Youth Suicide Prevention Project to increase its capacity to evaluate cultural-strengthening activities designed to increase youths’ protective factors and decrease risk factors for substance abuse and suicide. Specific activities will include:

  • Creating an evaluation workgroup that meets monthly
  • Conducting focus groups and individual interviews with youth and elders
  • Developing an instrument to measure program outcomes (e.g., increased knowledge of seven values, increased coping skills, reduced intent to use substances, reduced depression, increased connectedness) and administering to individuals who had participated in the focus group
  • Disseminating to the community the results of the enhanced evaluation
  • Submitting an article for publication


Pat Conway
Senior Research Scientist
Essentia Institute of Rural Health
502 East Second Street
Duluth, MN 55805
Phone: (218) 786-2149

Erica Cavanaugh
Vice President of Student Services
Director, Wiconi Ohitika Project
Cankdeska Cikana Community College
P.O. Box 269
Ft. Totten, ND  58335
Phone: (701) 766-1305

Monique Lambert
Project Manager, Wiconi Ohitika
Cankdeska Cikana Community College
P.O. Box 269
Fort Totten, ND 58335
Phone:  (701) 766-1132
Fax: (701) 766-1135