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Opinion

Indian Posse co-founder Richard Wolfe doesn't deserve legendary status

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files
Indian Posse gang member Richard Wolf on Sept 16, 1994.

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files Indian Posse gang member Richard Wolf on Sept 16, 1994.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/5/2016 (991 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is, by a mile, the most enduring interview I’ve conducted in 27 years with this newspaper.

For more than two decades, my September 1994 interview with Indian Posse co-founder Richard Wolfe has been resurrected and cited in articles, academic papers and, now, a new book as evidence of some point or other the author is trying to make.

Read the 1994 article (PDF)

My favourite of these citations came in a master of arts thesis submitted in 2012 by a University of Regina student, who lumped my Wolfe interview in with a bunch of other articles on aboriginal street gangs as evidence of how Canadian journalists were engaged in the “racialization of gang crime and the production of a moral panic.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/5/2016 (991 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is, by a mile, the most enduring interview I’ve conducted in 27 years with this newspaper.

For more than two decades, my September 1994 interview with Indian Posse co-founder Richard Wolfe has been resurrected and cited in articles, academic papers and, now, a new book as evidence of some point or other the author is trying to make.

My favourite of these citations came in a master of arts thesis submitted in 2012 by a University of Regina student, who lumped my Wolfe interview in with a bunch of other articles on aboriginal street gangs as evidence of how Canadian journalists were engaged in the "racialization of gang crime and the production of a moral panic."

I’ve read that paper and I still have no idea how journalists are to blame for "racializing" a gang that gave itself the name "Indian Posse," but I admit I do kind of like the idea that I have played a small role in the production of a "moral panic."

It’s good to know I’ve left my mark.

But here’s a confession: I have no personal recollection of that Wolfe interview. Nothing. I went looking for that Wolfe story as part of putting together this column, just to jog my memory on whether I’d done the interview in person or by telephone.

So why has an interview that others seem to remember so well has been completely erased from my memory? I’ve got a simple theory.

Before we get to that, first let me tell you what I do remember about being this paper’s cop reporter in the 1990s at a time a gang problem that beleaguers this city to this day was in its earliest formative years.

I remember before we called them "street gangs," we called them "youth gangs." Seems quaint now.

I remember before anyone had even really heard of the Indian Posse, there was another local street gang named the Raider Boys — they wore the team memorabilia of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders — making headlines and causing trouble all over town.

I remember both gangs got their start — and made their name — with an unusually prodigious talent for stealing cars. It was a pointless crime — sophisticated thieves would have had the cars boxed up in shipping containers and on a slow boat to Russia in a matter of hours. These simpletons just drove the cars until they ran out of gas or got wrapped around a pole.

While it was stupid, it caused huge problems for MPIC, which in turn put huge pressure on Winnipeg police to do something about it.

That, in turn, set the stage for the day the Winnipeg Sun published what amounted to a "how to" story on stealing cars, complete with a front-page picture depicting a broken steering column and a screwdriver pointing to exactly the wires you needed to bridge to start a car without a key.

It was wildly irresponsible journalism, but as dumb as it was, it added up to nothing — anyone who wanted to go into the car-stealing business back in those days wasn’t reading the local tabloid to learn how to do it.

However, the Sun gave city cops the scapegoat they needed to dodge responsibility for a problem police never saw coming and had no idea how to stop. For weeks afterward, the local constabulary’s answer to why there were so many cars being stolen in Winnipeg was to refer inquiries to the Sun.

It was as absurd back then as it sounds now. And while the cops were blaming the media and burying their heads in the snow, the local street gangs — led by Wolfe’s burgeoning Indian Posse — were graduating from stealing cars to running drugs and prostitutes, with a little robbery and murder sprinkled in.

Then, into the middle of that maelstrom came a little outfit called the Hells Angels, whose arrival in the city in the mid-1990s immediately shifted away police resources from a street-gang problem that at that exact moment needed more police attention, not less.

True story: I sat on the roof of a federal government building in the Exchange District with two cops for the better part of a week back in 1995, watching a restaurant across the street that was a reputed front for the Angels.

I cannot remember what the cops — or I — hoped to gain by watching diners come and go for a week. But at a time no one really seemed to know what to do, it was at least doing something, I guess.

Two decades later, that restaurant still exists, although it’s serving sushi instead of Italian these days. And while the Raider Boys are long gone, the Indian Posse and Hells Angels still have a presence, albeit diminished by decades of law enforcement and a war of attrition.

And Wolfe? At last report, he’s in prison yet again, doing a five-year bit for sexual assault and weapons offences. His brother and Posse co-founder, Daniel Wolfe, died in 2010 as he lived — violently.

But the Wolfe legend only continues to grow as authors, journalists, filmmakers and academics continue to try to attach some broader sociological — even anthropological — significance to the Wolfes and the Indian Posse.

In that world, these young gentlemen weren’t in a gang but rather in a "surrogate family." Their drug trafficking was simply the manifestation of generations of resentment towards a country that had marginalized their people. And the pimping? Residential schools, I guess.

It is the worst kind of historical revisionism. It is an insult to aboriginal people everywhere. But it is also exactly the kind of stuff that sounds good over a chilled glass of Chardonnay in a cafè with your fellow intellectuals.

Listen, I was there at the time — Richard Wolfe was no Malcolm X and the Indian Posse weren’t the Black Panthers.

Wolfe was cut from the same cloth as all the other hoodlums and clowns I grew up with in the North End. Yes, he was a little brighter than most, but that’s an extremely low bar.

Another true story: A couple years after I took over the cop beat, an incident report came across my desk detailing how police had caught a guy stealing two-fours from the old Carling O’Keefe brewery on Redwood Avenue by tossing them over the fence, one at a time, to an accomplice.

Let’s just say I was familiar with both the perpetrators and their methodology.

Wolfe and his brother were smarter than those idiots, but the idea of the Wolfes as either a fulsome expression of the alienation of indigenous peoples and/or criminal masterminds is an intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.

The Wolfes were just thugs, and not particularly sophisticated ones at that.

All of which brings me to my very simple theory on why I have so completely forgotten that Wolfe interview — because he is so utterly forgettable.

 

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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History

Updated on Saturday, May 7, 2016 at 1:33 PM CDT: Font size fixed.

May 9, 2016 at 1:40 PM: Changes photo.

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