Boys in the Woods (Part V of V)

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

PONSFORD, Minn. — The boys passed a one-gallon bottle of spiced rum from person to person, waiting for Saturday night on the White Earth Reservation to begin. Cigarette and marijuana smoke curled slowly around the low-hanging light fixtures as caps were twisted off beer bottles and tossed onto counters or into an overflowing trash can.

Senister — who agreed to be interviewed only if he could use a pseudonym — lit a menthol cigarette, took a pull from the rum, and cleared his throat.

“We got members scattered everywhere, but there’s going to be a point when we need everyone in the field,” said Senister to the boys in the room.

Born 33 years ago in Oklahoma, the Ponca tribal member is a leader of the Minneapolis street gang known as the Native Disciples. He had traveled to the reservation to meet new members of the White Earth chapter, encourage morale and conduct something comparable to a military inspection.

“We’re trying to start a chapter in Oklahoma; hopefully we can get that started,” continued Senister. “We’re just trying to get bigger. I want you brothers to understand that.”

Compared to Senister, the Native Disciples of White Earth were children. The twins were the youngest at 16, while Dell, the regional capo for the gang, was the oldest at 19.

“I haven’t met most of you brothers, and there’s other brothers and sisters I haven’t met, but I’m going to make my rounds,” said Senister. “Salute!”

“Salute!” answered the room in unison as beer cans and bottles clinked together in approval.

Native people have endured cultural alienation, the loss of their language and their land, the destruction of family and social structures. They’ve weathered the resulting social dysfunction. For some youth, gangs offer a shelter from those realities.

The largest, most best-known gang in Indian country, Native Mob, has gone quiet after a massive shutdown of the organization in 2013, and while both old and new Native gangs are hoping to take its place, the Native Disciples are likely the only group with the ability to do so.

Instead of feathers and leathers, today’s Indian renegades wear baseball caps and baggy pants. But unlike previous outlaws, they’re as big a threat to their own people as they are to the realities they push back against.

Read more here at Al Jazeera America.

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tristan ahtone

Tristan Ahtone is an award winning journalist and member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. Born in Arizona and raised across the United States, he was educated at the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Columbia School of Journalism. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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