Gang Violence Grows on an Indian Reservation

Erik Eckholm, New York Times, December 14, 2009

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Mr. Wilson is one of 5,000 young men from the Oglala Sioux tribe involved with at least 39 gangs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The gangs are being blamed for an increase in vandalism, theft, violence and fear that is altering the texture of life here and in other parts of American Indian territory.

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Groups like Wild Boyz, TBZ, Nomads and Indian Mafia draw children from broken, alcohol-ravaged homes, like Mr. Wilson’s, offering brotherhood, an identity drawn from urban gangsta rap and self-protection.

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Perhaps unique to reservations, rivals sometimes pelt one other with cans of food from the federal commodity program, a practice called “commod-squadding.”

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Christopher M. Grant, who used to head a police antigang unit in Rapid City, S.D., and is now a consultant on gangs to several tribes and federal agencies, has noted the “marked increase in gang activity, particularly on reservations in the Midwest, the Northwest and the Southwest” over the last five to seven years.

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Many of the gangs in Pine Ridge, like the Tre Tre Crips, were started by tribal members who encountered them in prison or while living off the reservation; others have taken their names and colors from movies and records.

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“We’re trying to give an identity back to our youth,” said Melvyn Young Bear, the tribe’s appointed cultural liaison. “They’re into the subculture of African-Americans and Latinos. But they are Lakota, and they have a lot to be proud of.”

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