They look like a stereotypical street gang, dressed in black leather with their “colours”—a stylized caricatured face with a black eye patch—emblazoned across their backs, but the Crazy Indians Brotherhood (CIB) is trying to provide a change from the thug life.
Founded in 2007, the CIB consider themselves less of a gang, but rather a support group for Aboriginal and Metis men looking to disassociate themselves from life in a gang.
“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,” said one CIB member to the Winnipeg Free Press.
“A lot of us, when we got out of the penal system, we were forced back into our old way of life,” said another member. The member described this cycle as 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,” said the member.
The CIB’s main objective is, according to their Facebook page: “To help those who cannot help themselves.”
“We always watch our Brothers’ backs and if one falls we all fall. We always get back up and become even stronger.”
The notion of addressing gang crime through a structured positive system is one very different from the “tough on crime” approach of the past.
According to Elizabeth Comack, sociology professor at the University of Manitoba and co-author of Indians Wear Red, this may be a reflection of the group’s desire to reclaim some of the historical influences that drove its members to where they were before.
“In Indians Wear Red, we argue that Aboriginal street gangs emerged as a form of resistance to colonialism – albeit a negative form of resistance given their involvement in the drug trade and such [ . . . ] What I find interesting about CIB is that they too are ‘political’ – they recognize colonialism and the damage it has caused, and they align with Idle No More as a way of making change,” said Comack.
A reported connection with motorcycle gang Rock Machine has caused concern for police, who assigned extra forces to an Idle No More protest on Dec. 21 due to the presence of some group members.
Despite this, the group insists that such concerns are unfounded.
“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 [ . . . ] We do it quietly and we don’t want the involvement of the police,” a CIB member told the Winnipeg Free Press.
Added another member, “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.”
Comack told the Manitoban, “[What’s] interesting is that they are appropriating the notion of ‘the gang,’ that they’ve been deemed “crazy Indians” and are using that as a way to make change [ . . . ] I see the issue as more one of a collective response to addressing—and challenging—the stereotyping of Aboriginal men who have been gang-involved, and providing them with a source of support as they endeavour to move on in their lives.”