February 05, 2010

Gangs, suicide, and stereotypes

National gang expert: Gang life, reservation suicides linked

By Dirk LammersGang activity and teen suicide on American Indian reservations need to be addressed together, according to a national gang expert who says there's a strong connection between the two problems.

Christopher Cuestas with the National Violence Prevention Resource Center spoke Thursday to a gathering of tribal members and legal and law enforcement officers during a "tribal listening conference" hosted by U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson.

Cuestas said that once a gang emerges in a community, the group establishes itself by recruiting and indoctrinating members. A gang during this stage will dovetail the community's risk factors, which for Indian reservations include drugs, alcohol, poverty and unemployment--the same ones linked to teen suicide.
Comment:  I think stereotypes are connected to both gang activity and teen suicide. First, there's the culture-wide pressure to achieve: to keep up with the Joneses, to be no. 1. Then there's the particular Native pressure to be a man and a warrior: strong, proud, stoic. This is stoked by countless media stereotypes portraying Indians as mighty chiefs and braves.

To prove your toughness, you join with a gang. Gangs practically exist so youngsters can flaunt their machismo to each other. And if you can't prove yourself in a gang, you give up. You commit suicide because you feel worthless and hopeless.

For more on the subject, see Tribalism = Solution, Not Problem and Gang Culture in Indian Country.

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