Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It looks like a gang, but it's a way out

Aboriginal, Métis members say they're a needed support group

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The two that do most of the talking have impressive tattoos running up their arms. One has tattoos running up to his neck. The other has blue tattoo teardrops from his right eye.

One wears a Winnipeg Jets jersey and the other a Jets cap. Three other guys sit at the table, but for the most part, they let the two guys with the tattoos explain who they are and what they represent.

They're members of the Crazy Indians Brotherhood.

They say the Crazy Indians is not so much a gang or a club, but a support group for mostly aboriginal and Métis former gang members who've given up the thug life.

"It was created about six years ago," one of them says over a recent breakfast at a West End Salisbury House.

"It was done with the idea of basically helping ex-gang members get out of the gangs and start living a better life, like finding jobs and start living a better life."

None of them wants to divulge their names. They say they're each living productive lives and do not want to be identified as former gang members or ex-cons. Each of them booked off work to meet. Four of the five can be seen in a Crazy Indians group photo posted on Facebook just before Christmas.

They also want to dispel any notion they're a criminal gang. Police sources have said some members have associated with the Rock Machine motorcycle gang and were one of the reasons extra police officers were on duty at the legislative building Dec. 21 for an Idle No More demonstration.

They say they were there to provide security, and no one has anything to fear from a Crazy Indian, especially police.

"A lot of us, when we got out of the penal system, we were forced back into our old way of life," the one in the blue Jets jersey says. "All of us got back sucked into doing what we used to do. It was like a revolving door. What we're trying to do is stop the revolving door so that less of us go back into the penal system."

There are a half-dozen Crazy Indian members in the Manitoba chapter. They have their own black leather vests and "colours" -- a stylized "crazy Indian" with an eye patch -- and meet regularly, although they say they do not have a clubhouse. There are other chapters in Canada, most notably Ontario.

"We've all given up our past life and our past criminal activities to try to make a run at making our community better and safer," he says on behalf of the others at the table. "We do it quietly and we don't want the involvement of the police. We're just here to help other people who want to leave that life."

The one in the Jets cap takes over. He says he's 51 and put his criminal past behind him in 2006 when he was sent to Stony Mountain Institution, not only for himself, but for his kids and his 17 grandchildren.

"As soon as police see the colours on your back they're thinking 'gang,' they're thinking bike gang, they're thinking negativity, they're thinking drugs, prostitution and whatever else. It's wrong. We're trying to educate our people on gangs, on criminal life, on drug activity. We're not part of that gang life anymore. We want to help the communities that we helped tear apart."

For example, they say they raised funds through a social before Christmas, and pooled their own money to put together hampers for needy families.

"One of the families cried, the whole family, which almost made some of our guys cry," the Jets jersey man adds.

The families were screened to make sure the toys or video game equipment didn't end up in a pawn shop so Mom and Dad could buy crack cocaine.

"So far our success in picking families has been good," he says.

"That's what our group is about," the grandfather in the Jets caps adds. "I'm at a lot more mature age and I look at things a lot differently. I want to try to help our aboriginal people and Métis people and anyone else that might be in need."

What's in a name?

WHY Crazy Indians?

The name comes not so much from how they see themselves, but how society sees them.

"We were born into poverty and when we were growing up, most of us were pointed at by Caucasian people, saying, 'Look at what those crazy Indians are doing," a Crazy Indians Brotherhood member told the Free Press at a recent meeting.

"So we basically took the name and ran with it. We've been called crazy Indians all of our lives, so why not use the name to prove to people that it doesn't matter how violent some of our pasts have been. We can still overstep that and we can still become a better person in the community when we live our lives a better way."

He says the Crazy Indians Brotherhood is not anything like a street gang or a one per cent or outlaw motorcycle club.

Instead, he says the club has participated in recent Idle No More rallies because they support the movement and the betterment of aboriginal people.

Only men can join the Crazy Indians Brotherhood. For a woman to join, she'd have to lower herself to their level -- and that's not possible. Ever.

"All of us have a need to belong," he says. "What we're trying to do is create a group of people together and teach each other how to be men and how to live right and involve ourselves in the community."

They say they could have asked for government funding to get the Crazy Indian Brotherhood started, but decided not to because they wanted to stay genuine and true to themselves, not beholden to politicians.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2013 B2

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