Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 10, 2000
Youth turn from street gangs
First Nations parish hosts conference on inner city gangs
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
A former member of a notorious street gang says an inner city conference she attended has reaffirmed her conviction that "there is a better life out there."
"Selling drugs, fighting people on the streets, living house to house is no way to live," Pearl Redcrow says.
The 19-year-old spent two years in the city's Red Alert gang but left a few months ago because she wanted a better life for herself, her three little sisters and her brother. "I know there is a better life out there for the kids."
Redcrow was one of about 140 people, including youth, educators, counsellors and police officers who attended a March 27-28 conference on aboriginal gang issues at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, Immacul‚e-Conception Church and Sacred Heart School, all three in Edmonton's inner city near 96th Street and 108th Avenue.
Titled Circling Winds: Get Out, Stay Out, Help Out, the conference featured workshops and talks on gang issues as well as native ceremonies and cultural activities.
Conference participants came up with many initiatives to keep young kids out of gangs, including setting up drop-in centres for native youth, getting them back to their aboriginal roots and organizing regular art and sports activities for young people.
The conference was organized by the Whitestone Project, a program designed for young native adults to learn skills for the workplace and higher education. It's a partnership between Sacred Heart Parish of the First Peoples and the Canadian Heritage Urban Multipurpose Aboriginal Youth Initiative.
Most of those who helped put the conference together, like chairperson John Kennedy, are Whitestone Project students and former gang members in their 20s. Chosen because they are positive role models, they shared their experiences with guests throughout the two-day event.
Kennedy, who now lives with his girlfriend and their three children, joined a gang when he was 13.
"Most people are attracted to the glamour of the lifestyle - cars and money and girls and the feeling of security," he said. "I think a lot of the time people are scared to get out."
Scared as he might have been, Kennedy did manage to get out a year ago. "That lifestyle is really bad. The destruction of property and of lives that goes on is just incredible," he said. "What prompted me to get out was my family. I realized I was hurting them."
Rocky Dumais, 27, was a member of a native street gang in the 1980s and spent time in prison. What attracts young people to gangs is the "fast life - cars, chicks and drugs," he said. "But you have to realize that this lifestyle doesn't last because you either die in a fight or go to jail."
When Dumais was in prison, the members of his gang turned their backs on him and that made him realize he wasn't in good company. "They are not going to help you while you are in jail," he said.
Dumais said young native people need safe places so they don't have to turn to gangs for protection, safety and companionship.
Marcel Pelletier, a Whitestone Project facilitator, said young people get involved with gangs for a variety of reasons, including poverty. Gangs offer them what their families can't. "What we need to do is provide them with alternatives," he said. "As a community we must be more involved in young people's lives."
Redcrow joined the Red Alert gang at age 16 because the group provided the attention and support she didn't get at home. "I did get fulfillment (as a gang member)," she told the WCR. "The gang became my family. They supported me."
But the excessive violence of gang life turned her off. Redcrow got out of the gang about seven months ago, found a job and now plans to become a youth worker to help native kids live a better life.
The conference helped her realize native youth are not alone. "There is a lot of support from the churches and other people in the community," she said. "It makes you feel secure."
Kennedy said proposals made by young people at the conference will be taken seriously. He said young people who want help getting out of gang activity can drop by the Sacred Heart Parish's office for help.