Gangs are everywhere in Indian Country and tribal leaders wonder if the community and culture have lost their powers.
By Mary Annette Pember
On today’s reservations, however, gang culture (including dress, music and behavior) is growing in popularity with young people. Seeing a group of Indian kids dressed in baggy pants and “do-rags” (handkerchief head covering) lounging around the prairie seems almost laughable until I hear the stories of senseless violence committed by these kids. Like so many other disenfranchised youth in America, reservation kids are also drawn to the provocative gang culture and its associated violence.
He says that maybe Indians have overlooked something when we talk about tribal cultures. Could it be that passing on Indian tradition begins with building community, that an investment in recreating community will strengthen our connection to culture, traditions and spirituality? Community as culture. Could this be a viable solution, he asks? He concludes that it is most certainly a discussion worth having in Indian Country.
I'd think along much more specific lines. For instance, assess all the youth programs in Indian Country. I.e., those involving the arts, sports, culture and language, Scouting-type outdoors activities, or whatever. Develop a database listing the most effective ones. Then launch a national initiative with funding to establish the best programs throughout Indian country, starting with the most troubled areas.
The warrior mentality
Gang members are clearly trying to prove how tough and macho they are. I wonder how many of them are responding to the cultural ambiance around them. Their great-great grandfathers were traditional Indian warriors. Their grandfathers and fathers fought in WW II, Korea, and Vietnam. What are these kids going to do to measure up to their forbearers?
To be sure, proving oneself as a rugged individualist, a fighter, and a man is part of the overall American culture. But nowhere is it emphasized more than among Indians. From the ceremonies exalting military veterans to the mascots exalting weapon-wielding savages, everyone promotes the idea of the Indian warrior. Geronimo and Crazy Horse get most of the attention, while no one talks about Indian peacekeepers, teachers, or philosophers.
It's hard to prove a connection between the "Indian warrior" cult(ure) and the increase in gang activity, but I suspect one exists. That's one reason I criticize so many attempts to fetishize the Indian warrior. As far as I'm concerned, we have enough "warriors" who validate themselves with fists and guns. And not enough who battle with words and ideas.
Suppose we had more of the latter than the former. Suppose we supported them with sufficient money and resources. Suppose we championed them as the greatest Indian "warriors."
Then Native youngsters might get a different idea. They might choose a different way. We'll never know until we stop glorifying warriors.
For more on the subject, see The Making of March Point and Native Pair Is BRAVE.