AN ASSESSMENT OF
THE PINE RIDGE OGLALA SIOUX TRIBE’S
GANGS, YOUTH VIOLENCE & DRUGS
Prepared for the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation
Sponsored by the Aberdeen Area Mental Health
Office of Indian Health Service
The National Violence Prevention Resource Center
The National Violence Prevention Resource Center was established to ensure that schools, social service and community health agencies, law enforcement, judiciaries, legislatures and other governing bodies are aware of the most current statistics and legal precedents that affect youth violence. Our instructors and consultants are nationally recognized experts in their fields. We require that our instructors are current in their credentials and testify in criminal and civil cases. We offer training, assessments, consulting and programs to communities intending to use a multi-faceted approach to gang and juvenile violence reduction.
In October 2005, the National Violence Prevention Resource Center was contracted by the Aberdeen Area Mental Health Office of Indian Health Services to prepare an assessment of youth gang activity within the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian community. Between November 4-12, 2005 and December 8-9, 2005, Chris Cuestas, a consultant with the National Violence Prevention Resource Center, visited the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation. Meetings were scheduled for community members interested in providing input on their perceptions and experiences regarding gang and youth violence locally. Attendees completed surveys and also provided personal anecdotes. Mr. Cuestas also interviewed more than twenty individuals while following up on graffiti indicators and night-time observations. Program personnel were presented with NVPRC’s mission and completed program surveys regarding youth services. In addition, quantitative data was compiled from housing, law enforcement, courts, planning and enrollment. The following report is the subsequent assessment of the youth gang activity within the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation. This information can be used to enhance efforts to develop a local strategy, increase awareness and apply for funding opportunities.
Stacy Van Dyke Date
Christopher Y. Cuestas Date
Criminal street gang activity within the cultural context of Native American communities involves a myriad of considerations. Of critical importance is the recognition that all tribal communities may share some similar challenges, but each tribal community is unique. Consideration include the proximity of the tribal community to urban centers, access to local prevention and intervention resources for youth, availability of family support programs, employment opportunities, community denial, access to public safety agencies, relations between local, state and federal judicial systems and cultural differences.
Despite their communities’ unique aspects, there are many common current trends
affecting tribal youth. Criminal street gangs have been slowly impacting tribes. The 2003 Annual Report by the Bureau of Indian Affairs identified 6,250 gang members and 1,576 in 520 gangs in the Aberdeen district. This number is a low representation due to
the limited number of tribal responses received by the BIA. Because criminal activity is the central element of youth gangs, it is reflected in the number of Native American youth incarcerated. Since 1994, the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has increased more than fifty percent. More than seventy percent of youth incarcerated in the BOP on any given day are Native American (OJJDP, 1999). Arrest rates for Native American juveniles are twenty percent higher than the average rates (OJJDP, 2001). Additionally, Native Americans are the victims of crime at twice the rate for the Nation as a whole. In general, gangs threaten the well-being of Tribes at their roots; their children.
To assist tribal communities in ensuring the health and welfare of their youth, it is important that it be aware of the impact of street gangs. A site-based, comprehensive assessment can provide details and insight regarding the local scope of the problem. An assessment may also provide community stakeholders with the means to develop an overall strategy to impact the problem.
SCOPE OF WORK
The National Violence Prevention Resource Center provided the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian community with a nationally recognized expert in criminal street gangs, Chris Cuestas, to assess the local youth gang activity and community violence. Mr. Cuestas has been working in the field of criminal street gangs for more than twenty-four years and has worked in tribal settings since 1994. Mr. Cuestas has become one of the country’s foremost authorities in addressing the gang problem in tribal communities. The ability to identify characteristics, assess communities and communicate with gang involved individuals takes a unique expertise. Mr. Cuestas combines these components and conducts in-depth professional training sessions throughout the country. He is often requested to headline national conferences in youth and gang crime, testify before tribal, state and national governments, and provide his expertise in court proceedings.
Mr. Cuestas is also called upon to develop unique strategies, programs and responses that can have an immediate impact in gang behavior reduction for communities throughout the United States. Mr. Cuestas has also provided his expertise to the Department of Justice as a peer grant reviewer.
Since 1996, Mr. Cuestas has been providing assessments of gang and youth violence for communities interested in reducing the impact of street gangs on their youth. The National Violence Prevention Resource Center provides a site-based, comprehensive assessment to provide details and insight regarding the local scope of the problem.
The assessment methodology for the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian community was four-fold. It included site visits, the recording of physical characteristics of gang activity, interviews with community stakeholders, interviews with active gang members within the affected community, after-hours community surveillance and reviewing community level indicators.
1. Site visit and surveys
The initial phase of the assessment began with site visits to the community. As coordinated through the Anpetu Luta Otipi Program, Mr. Cuestas provided the community with the opportunity to contribute their perceptions and experiences regarding gang and youth violence locally. The community members were asked to identify their opinions on the main risk factors currently affecting the Pine Ridge Oglala community. Following the input from community members, the community youth were surveyed regarding these concerns. Surveys were completed by 579 community members, students, adults and program personnel. The following were cited as the most significant community risk factors for local youth:
Note: Many respondents noted more than one risk factor.
The influence of gangs on tribal youth and the subsequent crimes against the community were cited in sixty-seven percent of the responders as the most significant risk factor (see survey attachment).
Lack of parental supervision
The lack of continual parental supervision of local youth was cited in fifty-nine percent
of the responders as the most significant risk factor (see survey attachment).
The abuse of alcohol and illegal narcotics by adults and youth was cited in fifty-five
percent of the responders as the most significant risk factor (see survey attachment).
The high rate of juvenile truancy and drop-out rates were cited in fifty-four percent of
the responders as the most significant risk factor (see survey attachment).
Lack of cultural attachment
An overall lack of cultural attachment and respect for local customs and traditions was cited by thirty-nine percent of the responders as the most significant risk factor (see survey attachment).
Lack of adult role models
A shortage of adult role models and mentors for local youth was cited by twenty-six
percent of the responders as the most significant risk factor (see survey attachment).
Lack of recreational opportunities for youth
The limited access to after school and weekend recreational opportunities for youth was cited by twenty-five percent of the responders as the most significant risk factor (see survey attachment).
Overall, the responses indicated that gangs, lack of parental supervision and substance abuse were the most cited risk factors for the community. Other risk factors included a high truancy and drop-out rate, a lack of cultural attachment, family rivalries, program rivalries, apathy and denial and lack of recreation opportunities for youth.
During the site visits, Mr. Cuestas conducted field interviews with more than eighty
community stakeholders, male and female between the ages of eleven and sixty, to gather pertinent community-level feedback. These field interviews revealed that the community perceives youth gang activity as a serious problem. Many of the youth interviewed have a fear for their personal safety both at their schools and in the evening hours in their communities. Youth cited a limited access to recreational activities in the evenings and weekends. Although there are youth facilities available, many youth indicated the distance to travel to use the programs and a lack of diversity in scheduling decreased their chance to use the facilities. While conducting several field interviews within the Kyle community, several youth indicated that they refused to participate in community
recreational opportunities because the programs were being administered by individuals they perceived to be active gang members. Others expressed a fear of being jumped while at a program due to the influence of the dominant gang involved in the program.
Several field interviews substantiated information received from program personnel regarding the increasing influence of adult gang members on area youth. Two of the most active gangs within the Oglala Sioux community are the Gangster Disciples and Surenos, both transplants from larger municipalities. According to the interviews with area youth and interpretation of recent graffiti, local or homegrown gangs are in active conflict with these transplants for control of the local drug trade and street influence. Drug and party crews know as 420 and 840 are becoming increasing predominate for older youth, especially in Pine Ridge and Manderson.
Interviews with elders indicated a predominant sense of fear of local youth perceived to be involved in destructive behavior. Others expressed a sense of anger over their reduced ability to enjoy their community at night. Many noted a fear of being assaulted and many adults expressed their concern regarding the “climate change” of their community within the past several years.
2. After-hours observations
During the after-hours observations, conducted between the hours of 6:00 pm and 1:00 am, several risk factors became obvious. The most obvious risk factor was the high number of unsupervised youth congregating during the late hours of the evening. There was constant foot traffic in Pine Ridge and Kyle and concentrated youth grouping in Pine Ridge, Kyle, and Manderson. Children as young a 9 and 10 years old were out within the community during high-risk hours.
Interviews with gang members or individuals who identified themselves as gang involved revealed that they do not fear accountability for their criminal activity. They believe they can continue to commit criminal acts with little if any negative results. Because of their lack of fear of accountability, there is little effort to hide obvious gang characteristics (tattoos and attire) or drug sales. Many of the juvenile gang members indicated that they became involved in gang activity because their extended family had animosities with other families. Many of these youth also aligned themselves with the dominant gang in the area for protection. The adult gang members, who are often transplants from
other communities, often had numerous youth with them. This was especially
prevalent in Kyle and Pine Ridge. This adult mentoring into the gang lifestyle accelerates a younger person’s involvement in criminal activity and insulates the adult
gang member from consequences or accountability. Many of those interviewed indicated that drug sales, including marijuana, methamphetamines and stolen prescription drugs, were increasing. On several occasions adults were observed parked behind the Shell station with youth coming up to their vehicle to purchase or transport on behalf of the adults. On a second evening observation, youth were seen running up to a vehicle and carrying items into the local gym and then returning several minutes later to hand cash over to the occupants of the vehicle.
Gang members indicated that drugs are sold within the community in several locations including local housing areas where vehicle traffic increases at night. Some of the locations were identified by tennis shoes strung over power lines, which is a common way drug sales locations are marked in larger communities. Gang involved youth also indicated an increased access to methamphetamines within the past several months.
Personal testimony was given regarding witnessing and knowledge of recent gang-related activity within the Pine Ridge community to include:
; Youth parties with excessive drug usage and intoxication
; Physical assaults and beatings with weapons
; Retaliatory fights and violence
; An increase in violent crime
; Campus disruptions including bullying and intimidation
; Increased drug traffic within the community
; Tagging and gang-related criminal damage at schools
3. Interviews with program personnel
This phase of the assessment included focused interviews with tribal program personnel and leaders to discuss program responses to local youth crime and gang activity. Interviewed were representatives from local law enforcement, Tribal Courts, Chemical Prevention, Tribal Leadership, Probation, Indian Health Services and Youth Programs.
Mr. Cuestas introduced NVPRC’s methodology for the community assessment and
solicited input from those interviewed. Generally, all of the responders indicated there are gaps in services for local tribal youth who are at-risk for gang involvement and substance abuse.
The following are general excerpts from their input regarding local gaps in services:
1) An overall lack of collaboration between youth-related services.
Program personnel cited a lack of collaboration between services when dealing with youth-related issues. Agencies that should dovetail their efforts include local law enforcement, tribal courts, youth and social services to include family services, area schools and housing.
2) A lack of a community-based approach to reducing youth criminality. Program personnel worried that law enforcement suppression was the only current local method to deal with the increase in youth crimes.
3) The need for in-depth professional training and staff development regarding youth risk factors such as gang activity, violence and substance abuse.
Program personnel were concerned that they were not adequately trained nor prepared to identify risk factors or deal with their results.
4) A requirement for the collection of local data regarding youth-related issues. Program personnel recognized the need for local data and felt they were missing out on funding opportunities as well as general baseline data that would assist them in understanding and addressing their local problems. The local Tribal Court system was handicapped by the lack of coordinated efforts to establish court administrative management protocols especially for probation and parole offenders. Tribal court personnel and law enforcement requested field drug kits the lack of which reduces their effectiveness at getting youth adjudicated under court supervision (to include intervention). The lack of coordinated management requirements (especially in documentation) between east and west limited each area’s courts in their abilities to track ongoing criminally active youth and adults.
4. Community level indicators
During the assessment, Mr. Cuestas documented a substantial amount of gang-related graffiti within the Pine Ridge community. He interpreted each of the sites and ascertained which sites substantiated information from other sources. Gang-related graffiti is an indicator of the level of gang maturity in a community. If interpreted correctly, it can deliver information on the number of active gangs, the types of gangs, the influences of the gangs and be a record of past and future events (see graffiti attachment).
The National Violence Prevention Resource Center also requested local statistics from law enforcement, courts, housing, schools and enrollment. As noted in the
recommendations, many of the local programs and agencies did not have a methodology to track youth-related issues.
Local law enforcement, OST Department of Public Safety, was able to provide records from 2003-2004. According to these local statistics, gang-related crime increased 60% during 2003-2004. Disorderly conduct, curfew and assaults decreased on average 35% during the same time frame. This may be due to an increased focus by local law enforcement. A relatively small number of calls for service for criminal damage complaints verses the significant amount of graffiti in each community may indicate a sense of entrenchment that community member’s feel regarding gangs. Overall, the calls for service appear to be concentrated in those areas that have recognized indicators for gang activity. In other words, ongoing gang activity in a community directly correlates to criminal activity in that community.