July 3, 2008
Wanblii Ake Glii
I'm sure most have heard about the high statistics of poverty,
unemployment, violence and abuse, suicide, gang growth, and drug and
alcohol addiction that plagues our people and is endemic to our reservations.'
Surely anyone who is from here or is familiar with Lakota communities
can see and hear with their own two eyes and ears that we have big
problems concerning our youth who are the future of the people.
The lure of the "gang lifestyle" which glamorizes poverty and only
handicaps our youth is definitely a big issue.
Considering a generation ago there were rarely gangs on our
reservations we have to realize that this gang lifestyle and the
mentality that accompanies it will only continue and will keep us, as
an oppressed and struggling people, in continuing oppression because
it keeps the rest of the people not involved in gang activity in fear
and gangs thrive on fear.
Ultimately, my greatest desire is in helping to revive the true
warrior spirit of our ancestors that lies dormant in the Native youth today.
For when I look at them I see that too many have forgotten where
they've come from which I can see through how the majority choose to
express themselves in their lifestyle and appearance.
But I can also see a great potential in them for change because of
their energy of youthfulness which reveals to me a fire and a hunger
inside them for something better.
Looking at this reality today it reminds me about how the young
African Americans during the 1960s and 1970s once had this
opportunity to change, but unfortunately for them it failed and was forgotten.
Although gangs in the U.S. have been around since as early as 1780 it
was during the late 1960s in Los Angeles, Calif. that today's "gang
lifestyle" was born, primed in the 1940s and 1950s by the violence of
white racism against African Americans who formed what were then
called "clubs" that were mostly families' banded together to combat
the hate of white Americans.
In the early 1960s the whites began to move away from the inner city
to the outer city leaving the blacks with no one to fight, and human
beings just doing what is in their nature without guidance or
purpose, began to fight each other.
But during the mid-60s of the Civil Rights Movement, with a number of
black social movements being 'voices' for their black people as a
whole in demanding racial desegregation, justice and equality, these
political and social movements' were able to stop the growing black
on black gang violence for almost five years from 1965 to 1970.
This was done by a few black youth who became leaders and were
historically, socially and politically conscious of what their people
faced as a whole, which was of course the racism of white America.
(The Black Panther Party was primarily this voice at this time and
the American Indian Movement was also started during this period in
Minnesota, in 1968)
These movements gave the people and especially their youth good
direction and purpose by taking their time and energy, which
otherwise would've been used to fight each other, and put it to
positive use giving them self esteem and healthy self identities in
helping their people.
But this being America, a country that has a long, and not readily
known and talked about, history of crushing the voices of dissent
from the poor and oppressed minorities, it's actually a land where
"all men are 'not' created equal" despite its famous declaration, so
these movements were, to put it simply, neutralized.
The black youth now with no guidance, because their leaders were
either killed or put in prison by the U.S. government for exercising
their so called rights of freedom of speech, began to revert back to
their old ways of fighting each other. So after nearly five years of
virtually no gang violence it began to start again, and in the midst
of this calm before the storm a young kid the age of 15 started the
first gang in 1969 wanting it to be like the Black Panthers he had so
long admired to fight for his peoples rights. He called his new gang,
mostly young boys, the Baby Avenues, later the Avenue Cribs, then
finally just Cribs. After the Cribs gang failed to follow in the
footsteps of the Black Panther Party, due to the lack of knowledge of
the American political system, revolutionary ideology and mature
leadership, the Cribs name finally changed to Crips when some elderly
women were assaulted by a few Crib members who were carrying walking
canes. The newspapers described the assaulters as young cripples,
changed the "b" in their Crib name to a "p" and the name Crips stuck.
The Bloods were actually Crips at one time too, but conflict as usual
between different Crip gangs later forced former Crips to form allies
with non-Crip gangs in 1970 calling it the Blood Alliance with each
allied gang becoming Bloods. This conflict would start a war among
the black youth and touch all colors of young people willing to get
involved that would reach into all other major cities' across the
U.S. nation when it came to the colors of "blue" and "red." Of course
there are now many new "colors" associated with many more new gangs
across the U.S. For example in 1970 there was only 201 reported gangs
across 19 states. But as of last year in 2007 it was reported that
all 50 states now have gang activity, with about 30,000 gangs and
800,000 gang members across the entire U.S. nation.
So in considering the magnitude of gang growth and its popular
lifestyle across the U.S. through fashion and entertainment these
past 40, or so, years as well as its continuing/growing effect it has
on our tribal communities I think we have to ask ourselves a few
questions' like: Why are our youth so attracted to this foreign way
of life that is only self destructive and senseless in the end, and
not the ways of their people/ancestors? How can we begin to change it
and give them something better? And if not where will this end up for
us as Native people whose culture, traditions and language are
dependant on the youth to be carried on?
For me it was my simple hope in recalling this bit of history that
maybe whomever reads this, will have a better understanding of how
this problem began and realize it didn't have to be this way, and so
it doesn't have to continue either.
But, if I had to offer the simplest solution I could think of where
we could begin, I say to the youth, why not instead of representing
just one color, why not represent six; black, white, red, yellow,
blue and green, and with tobacco tied in each one ask yourself, Where
am I really from?
Anson Black Calf, 27, is Sicangu/Navajo and lives in southern
Californica with his wife Angelina and son Anpetu Wi Topa.