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Report cites increase in Native gang activity

Native gang activity is on the rise in urban and rural communities across Saskatchewan, according to a government report released on Monday.

Bearing names like the Native Syndicate, Crazy Cree and the Tribal Brotherz, adult gangs have maintained a presence in the province since the 1990s. The gangs are associated with violent crimes, drug trafficking, prostitution and cross-border smuggling.

But the new report by the Criminal Intelligence Service Saskatchewan (CISS) highlighted an emerging problem: Native youth gang activity. Saskatchewan alone has at least 1,315 young gang members, the highest per capita of any province in Canada.

"There is a pressing and urgent need," said CISS executive committee chairman Cal Johnston, who serves as the chief of police in Regina, a city with a sizable Native population.

Regina is one of three cities with the highest increase in gang activity, according to law enforcement officials. The other two are Saskatoon, which also has a significant Native population, and Prince Albert, located near a dozen First Nations.

"It is anticipated that gang-related crimes and recruitment will continue to escalate throughout the province given our demographic trends," the CISS report stated.

Representing 14 percent of the Saskatchewan's population, Natives make their homes in urban and rural areas throughout the province. Gangs are recruiting youth in both areas, according to the report, by exploiting poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunities.

Native leaders say Native youth join gangs because they are "disenfranchised from society" and have few other options. In 2003, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations released a report that outlined some of the reasons for the increase in Native youth gang activity. Among other statistics, the report said that up to 90 percent of the youth in law enforcement custody are Native.

The impact of the gangs is largely felt on the Native population. Between 1994 and 2000, Native people were 55 percent of Saskatchewan's homicide victims and 60 percent of those accused of committing homicides.

The cycle continues as Native adults who joined gangs in prison return home to the reserve or to their communities. This contributes to a wide range of crimes, from property crimes to robberies to witness intimidation, according to law enforcement authorities.

The situation isn't unique to Canada either. In the U.S., Native gang activity has contributed to extremely high rates of violent crime on reservations in Minnesota, New Mexico, Arizona and Idaho.

In Minnesota, Native gangs have threatened entire communities -- the Red Lake Ojibwe Reservation alone accounts for 33 percent of the cases prosecuted in the entire state. Gang rivalries have spilled into cities like Minneapolis, leading to multiple murders at an Indian housing project.

According to Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, Native gangs operate in nearly every province. Some are very organized, particularly those involved in border-smuggling, while others are "street" type gangs primarily involved in drug trafficking.

Native gangs are not considered as "sophisticated" as Asian, motorcycle, Eastern European and Italian gangs, according to authorities, but they "support and facilities" these other groups through their activities.

Get the Report:
2005 Intelligence Trends: Aboriginal-based Gangs in Saskatchewan (March 2005)

Related Report:
Aboriginal-based Organized Crime (Criminal Intelligence Service Canada 2004)

Relevant Links:
Criminal Intelligence Service Saskatchewan - Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations -