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.