The dreams of Priestess Bearstops (Part II of V)

This is the second story in a five-part series on Native American gangs.

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s all kale salads, vegan Sloppy Joes and hip waitresses with tattoos and piercings in the front of the restaurant. In the back, where Priestess Bearstops works, it’s scrubbing, spraying, chopping and rinsing. Everything clangs so loudly, it’s tough to hear the roaring fan overhead or Beyoncé playing on the radio.

“I really want to be a server, but it’s hard trying to get a service job when you don’t have experience,” said Bearstops as she dunked a set of stainless steel pans into a sink full of soapy water. “On top of that, a lot of these chicks are all tatted up, and I’m not tattooed. They’re also predominately Caucasian.”

The 18-year-old Lakota tribal member paused for a moment, shook soapy water from her hands and used the back of her wrist to wipe sweat from her forehead. On a nearby wall, the restaurant’s menu was taped up. The morning brunch specialty: eggs Benedict, a dish Bearstops has never tried.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” she said as she began sorting silverware to throw into the industrial-strength dishwasher. “I’d just be washing that shit anyway.”

Four days a week, Bearstops ties back her long, curly hair, washes dishes and preps food, and every two weeks she gets a $400 paycheck. It’s a dead-end job, but it’s one of the safest places she could be. She says most of her peers are into drugs or have become enmeshed in gang life, and her home life can be just as unstable.

Every day, Bearstops has a choice: Minneapolis street life, the same life that claimed her little brother and still begs for her mother’s attention, or a life a little more ordinary — stable job, high school diploma, car payments, sleeping in an actual bed. She’s navigating a tenuous future in the city that gave birth to the modern Native American street gang.

Read more here at Al Jazeera America.

Tristan Ahtone

Tristan Ahtone is a member of the Kiowa Tribe and serves as associate editor for tribal affairs at High Country News. He has reported for PBS NewsHour, National Native News, Wyoming Public Radio, NPR, Al Jazeera America, Indian Country Today, and National Geographic, and more. Tristan’s stories have won multiple honors, including investigative awards from Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Gannett Foundation. He additionally was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard University in 2017. He is president of the Native American Journalists Association.

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