Set aside the romanticized Quileute Reservation seen in the Twilight Series for a darker version of what is happening on some reservations.  Many native reservations are known for extreme poverty, poor living conditions, broken homes, lack of basic infrastructure, chronic illness, substance abuse, unemployment, and now gang violence.  Today’s New York Times featured some very troubling exposure to gang life style on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. 

CLICK TO VIEW THE VIDEO.  (NYT video does not embed easily) 

Tribal leaders are attempting to combat  gang behavior that has existed since the 90’s when funds targetting crime were severely cut back.  Lakota cultural experts have been hired to work with middle and high school age kids in the tribal schools.  The students are taught the language and the culture.  Yet once they leave the school room, the gang is on the outside.  Gang members have adopted the style and behaviors of inner city gangs but they have different motivations. 

The tribal lands gangs don’t fight for turf or big bucks.  They fight over scraps.  Robbery, looting, general theft, burglary seem to be the gang crimes.  Goods are then sold.  All gang behavior is self destructive to any society.  On the  Pine Ridge Reservation , it is estimated that over 5000 youth are gang members or have gang affiliation.  In a land already fraught with too many of society’s ills, gang presence is just not needed. 

From The Ledger:

The Justice Department distinguishes the home-grown gangs on reservations from the organized drug gangs of urban areas, calling them part of an overall juvenile crime problem in Indian country that is abetted by eroding law enforcement, a paucity of juvenile programs and a suicide rate for Indian youths that is more than three times the national average.

While many crimes go unreported, the police on the Pine Ridge reservation have documented thousands of gang-related thefts, assaults – including sexual assaults – and rising property crime over the past three years, along with four murders. As federal grants to Pine Ridge have declined the past decade, the tribal police force has shrunk by more than half, with 12 to 20 officers per shift patrolling an area the size of Rhode Island.

Somehow this video of gang membership is more disturbing than city gang video.  Perhaps it is the sense of dispair already existing on many reservations where social problems are at their highest.  To see young people whose ancestors were Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and other proud Native Americans emulating the dregs of society is just disgusting.

18 Thoughts to “Gangs on Tribal Lands”

  1. Mando

    “Tribal leaders are attempting to combat gang behavior that has existed since the 90’s when funds targetting crime were severely cut back. Lakota cultural experts have been hired to work with middle and high school age kids in the tribal schools.”

    What’s missing in this statement? Parents! All youth gang activity is rooted in crappy or non-existent parenting. I don’t blame it on society, lack of funding, or after school activities. It’s 100% $hitty parents.

  2. Wolverine

    Thanks for this lesson, Moon-howler. The poverty and resultant hopelessness at Pine Ridge and other Western reservations is truly a national disgrace; and the development of gang problems under such conditions is understandable. I understand that a lawsuit against the USG for breaking the old treaties concerning Indian land has recently gone in favor of the Indians. That might help somewhat to break the poverty cycle, if the resultant payout can be managed effectively and honestly. The various tribal councils will be critical in this.

    I’ve pontificated here before about supporting private schools on or near the reservations. These schools are unfortunately small because they are often faith-based and depend almost totally on private donations. The idea is to give the kids a chance to escape the miseries of the reservation and broken family life and to be educated in a safe and clean environment, often through the use of school-year dormitories food service, and other quality of life factors. Often these kids are brought to the schools by parents or relatives who despair of the future of these children if they are left to the ordinary devices of the reservation. The families are charged virtually nothing for all this. The schools also focus on the language and heritage issues as part of this educational effort. These endeavors are very worthy of support from all of us, regardless of one’s feelings about faith-based education.

    What strikes me as a problem in all this is exemplified by what I saw in that NYT video about the young man who did stay in school, eventually got into the gang lifestyle on the reservation, and would now like to find a “profession.” Once the children have been “rescued” by the aforementioned schools, what can be done after the high school diploma is handed to them? Do we just send them hopefully back to the misery of the reservation? In my opinion, what we need is something beyond the K-12 scenario, something funded both governmentally and through private charity. That something is a very large scholarship funding mechanism to help these kids truly escape the poverty cycle through post-secondary vocational, professional, or collegiate training. We need to help them achieve enough education to actually form a sort of internal “Peace Corps” which can go back onto the reservations and truly fight against the cycle of poverty and violence.

    I can understand Mando’s focus on negligent parents. However, it strikes me that we have let the problems fester so long on the reservations that many of the parents are without the means or the ability to control events even within their own families. I think we have arrived at a point where we have to concentrate on pulling the current younger generation out of this mess, educating them, and giving them the task of changing the equation for the better, including setting good examples as caring and productive parents when their turn comes.

  3. Mando

    The govt. and “we” are a poor substitute for a caring and responsible parent.

    I admit I know little about reservations other then that they are a good small scale example of what happens when you depend too much on the govt. for your existence.

    This could be translated to any poverty-stricken neighborhood. The problem can’t be fixed by the govt. The problem is the govt.

  4. Wolverine, you are a God-send on this subject for sure. I think we both share a passionate concern over American Indian issues. I thank you for your contributions here on such issues.

    I am not one who usually donates to faith based initatives. To be honest, I often find faith based initiatives to be almost predatory. The Christian religion has a very bad track record as far as robbing the American Indian of his/her own culture/language/religion and replacing that culture and native religion with all things modern and Christian. However, one of my favorite charities is the St. Joseph Indian School which teaches and provides for Lakota children. Go figure.

    It appears that many young American Indians adult enlist in the military. It is the great equalizer, provides job training, and is a way off the reservation.

    I find this gang problem to be horribly troubling. We always hear about inner city problems. I had no idea this problem was as widespread as it is. The reservations are just isoclated from our society….forgotten even.

  5. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    Moon-howler :
    I am not one who usually donates to faith based initatives. To be honest, I often find faith based initiatives to be almost predatory. The Christian religion has a very bad track record as far as robbing the American Indian of his/her own culture/language/religion and replacing that culture and native religion with all things modern and Christian. However, one of my favorite charities is the St. Joseph Indian School which teaches and provides for Lakota children. Go figure.

    Now the government, they on the other hand have been the Indian’s best friend!

  6. Mando, the government has always been a problem for the American Indian. On the other hand, you have to cut the American Indian some slack. They were perfectly content being American Indians. We are a little late coming to the table on this one.

    When the American Indians were all rounded up and placed on lands no one else wanted and their culture replaced with the low end culture of other people, it is hard to get real judgemental about lifestyle. In a way it is like any other group of people who live in poverty. On the other hand, it is also different. REservation life is unique.

    The Lakota people’s story is particularly tragic. The sacred ground of the Black Hills was stolen from them by the United States and they suffered several massacres, the most famous being the Massacre at Wounded Knee. in 1890.

  7. Slowpoke, I would be the first one to say the govt has not been the best friend of the American Indian.

    I also do not like some of the various accounts of faith based initiatives when it comes to the American Indian. By definition they have to change. That bothers me. Lets just call it like it is: missionaries. That is really what I am talking about.

  8. Last Best Hope

    Gangs on the Reservations. Should any of us be surprised? M-H, please email me as soon as someone suggests that we should deport them.

    Might I suggest a post about the radical right’s new ploy to generate hate toward federal employees with regard to salary increases? This might catch on in the Bible Belt, but around here, the latest hate campaign is none too popular. Interesting how many people I know who are so eager to join the circus of denunciation when the target is bankers, or gays, or immigrants. But now that table is turned, and the new target is federal employees, the political expedience is suddenly not worth the hypocrisy.

  9. More on Pine Ridge

    Last Best Hope, I have only picked up bits and pieces of the federal smack down. Please email me details.

  10. Second-Alamo

    Everyone hates gangs and bankers it seems. If gangs are directly related to low income, then why is everyone so eager to allow thousands more low income people into our area. As far as them being in poverty it is either that they didn’t have the opportunities, or didn’t take advantage of the ones they had. So which is it? Rather than spend all our effort trying to convert bad to good why not concentrate on those who stay the straight and narrow regardless of their condition of poverty. I guarantee you a better return on our investment. Besides, what is the percentage of people who were once on the wrong side of the law, and then went straight the rest of their lives?

  11. I don’t think that American Indians on the rez have opportunities to start with. Check out some of the pictures in the links I put above.

    I think that tribal leaders are trying the positive route to keep them from gangs but it isn’t working.

  12. Wolverine

    Well, Moon-howler, it looks like both of us have an interest in those Lakota kids at St. Josephs Indian School. I think most of those kids come from the Lower Brule Reservation southeast of Pierre, South Dakota. I’m also into the La Habre School in Ashland, Montana, which has three small, separate educational institutions serving the kids on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations up there. I’m looking to expand to Pine Ridge if I can find something to support there as well.

    I am personally not much concerned about the faith-based nature of these Catholic-run schools. I think that things are quite o.k. from that perspective. The objective seems to be genuine charitable help rather than proselytization.

    I am basically very conservative in my political views. However, when I am convinced that we “owe” something to somebody, I do think we “owe.” If you come from out West like much of my family, you really “owe”, because the chances that your family is living on land that once belonged to the Indians is pretty much a 100% given.

    There is a paradox here that just baffles me. The battle between us and the Indians for that land is not something unique in human history. It has happened everywhere in every epoque — the Celts being displaced by the Teutons and others coming from the east; the Britons being swamped by the Anglo-Saxons in England; the Irish coming to Scotland and replacing the Picts; the Bantu sweeping down from northern Africa all the way to the current South Africa and gobbling up every indigenous group in their way. What I find strange, however, is that, after we defeated this “enemy”, i.e. the Indians, we removed them to reservations, continually violated our own treaties, and then left them to fester on land which we did not particularly want for other purposes. Is this the same country which, having defeated both Imperial Japan and the Third Reich, turned around and helped them to rebuild, as well as helping other parts of Europe through the Marshall Plan? So, where is our “Marshall Plan” for the western Indian reservations in our own backyard? This failure is, in my opinion, a stain on our history.

  13. Wolverine, you make a very good point. I had always made that point with the south. No other ‘enemy’ was ever treated so poorly after being defeated as the south. Now I must include the Indians in that equation also. The 2 groups that should have been Marshall Planned first.

    I feel we owe Indians also. We stole their lands. We gave them left overs and left them to fester. You are completely correct. I suppose we are all on Indian lands. Somehow in the east, it is just much more remote. I have never been to the Dakotas but I have gone to reservations in Washington, Arizona, and New Mexico. I don’t believe the poverty is as severe as in places like South Dakota. It is bad though. Very bad. The few Lakota adults I have talked to in my life seem to hate white people. I can’t say as I blame them. The few white people I have known who grew up in that area show the same degree of hostility towards them. I found it very difficult to communicate that I didn’t have prejudices against American Indians.

    Do you suppose that Father Steven at St. Joseph’s could give us the name of a similar school on the Pine Ridge Rez? The one thing I have been so impressed with over the several years I have been sending this organization a check when I can, is that they continue to treasure the Lakota culture. So many religions and government operations seem to want to stomp out all that is Indian, from language, to culture, to spirituality. St. Joseph’s does not seem to want to do that as proven by their little Indian gifts, the museum, the online store.

    I generally avoid religious groups and government groups because they historically have tried to superimpose their religion, their God, and their way of life to the point of cultural annilation. St. Joseph does not seem to do that. Therefore, they have my support.

    Here is what I was able to dig up on Pine Ridge charities.

    We can continue our discussion. If no one else is interested, they can ignore us. I am just glad to have found out someone else has the same interests!

  14. Wolverine, Fr. Steve said that the siblings of Gaylord, the young man who was murdered and mentioned in the NY Times article are at St. Josephs. 2 little girls who lost their brother. Father Steve is very friendly and writes great email.

    That school just does tremendous outreach!

    To all, the school Wolverine and I are talking about is St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, SD. The web address is:

    Check them out. Please.

  15. Wolverine

    Thanks for the lead, Moon-howler. I agree that Father Steve and St. Josephs are very good at outreach. I’ve got more Lakota “dream catchers” than I have dreams!! Same goes for St. Labre in Montana (notice I had a mind misfunction the last time I referred to this school). Red Cloud School looks like a good place for me to start vis-a-vis Pine Ridge, although some others on the referenced list also bear a look.

    Looks like you and I have the same sense about this thing. I am really fastened on the fact that such an effort is made at these schools to emphasize continued reverence for Indian traditions and language. Loss of those would be a loss for all of us, Indian or non-Indian. What is sent to me from these schools goes to my own grandchildren, along with some lessons on the culture and traditions involved. They are finding it quite informative. Nothing loosens my own wallet faster than a comparison between the scenes in that NYT video and the faces of the kids in the St. Josephs and St. Labre literature.

  16. Wolverine

    And Moon-howler: Wakan Tanka Kici Un.

  17. Thank you! 🙂

    And it sure sent me to paypal to make a Christmas donation.

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