Taking the Wind Out of Their Sails:
Combating Gang Activity and Youth
Violence in Lac du Flambeau
by Amy Brennan and
A visit to the north woods of
Wisconsin takes you to one of the most popular recreation areas in the state.
Known for fishing, boating, and camping in the summer, skiing and snowmobiling
in the winter, and hunting in the fall, the north woods is also home of the Lac
du Flambeau Chippewa Indians. The presence of this Native American community in
Wisconsin is evident as far south as Madison, where billboards along highway 94
invite travelers to the Lake of the Torches (English for Lac du Flambeau) Resort
The fifth largest
township in Vilas County, Lac du Flambeau experienced an almost 12 percent
increase in population from 1990 to 1998—higher than Wisconsin’s 6.8 percent
and Vilas County’s 9.8 percent growth. Lac du Flambeau residents attribute
this growth to the casino, which was completed in 1993, and to a new grade
school also completed in 1993.
A stop at the new George W. Brown
Jr. Ojibwe Museum and Cultural Center is a must for learning more about this
Indian tribe, which has been permanently settled on this land since 1745. A band
of the Lake Superior Chippewa, the Lac du Flambeau, with its 1523 members, live
on the reservation, which was established with a September 30, 1854, treaty.
An Active Community
has changed things quite a bit.
Before there was
high unemployment. It’s been great.”
Germaine, Vice Chairman of the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council
It is clear from talking with community members that the
Lake of the Torches Resort and Casino has changed life in Lac du Flambeau.
Unemployment on the reservation dropped from at least 75 percent in the early
1980s to about 20 percent in 1999—thanks in large part to the casino and
resort. Bingo, the tribe’s first gaming activity, was also the only tribal
moneymaking enterprise in the early 1980s. Today, the casino is the number one
employer in Vilas County. Revenues from the casino benefit not only each tribal
member through a per capita payment each year (for members under the age of 18,
the per capita payment is held in reserve until the age of 18), but they also
fund the tribal council’s general fund, police department, planning
department, and other enterprises.
The Abinoojiiyag (the
Ojibwe word for youth) Center provides many opportunities for Lac du Flambeau
youth. Activities at the youth center include career fairs at nearby Nicolet
College, open gym for basketball, and karaoke. In addition to hosting events and
programs, the youth center produces a newsletter that showcases successful
community youth through interviews with high school seniors about their plan for
the future and advice for younger students.
After starting with two staff in the late 1980s, the tribal police
department now has ten staff members. One police officer is a liaison to the Lac
du Flambeau public school. The
growth in the police department allows for more targeted crime prevention and
intervention. Although county police do occasionally patrol the reservation,
having a police department of its own allows the tribe to handle crime on a more
systematic and thorough basis. It also allows the tribe to hold its members
accountable for their actions in a way that did not happen previously.
With all of these positive signs—plenty of youth activities, devoted
tribal members, and a dedication to celebrating the accomplishments of community
members—the future looks hopeful to many people on the reservation. Despite
all of the progress, however, uncertainty defines the future for some tribal
members. Substance abuse and domestic violence are prevalent, and youth violence
and gang activity exist.
Youth Violence and Gang Activity
fun, exciting. I get a rush.”
Lac du Flambeau
High School Junior
Just how organized is gang activity in Lac du Flambeau?
Some people say it’s not organized at all, others say it’s very
organized, yet still others in the community are not concerned with how it's
labeled—they are just concerned about the results.
The Sovereign Natural Warriors
According to local police officials, gangs do exist in Lac
du Flambeau—the most visible and active of which is the Sovereign Natural
Warriors (SNW). SNW can be traced to Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Lac du Flambeau
Police Chief Gene Roehl believes that SNW began as a drumming group in a Twin
Cities prison. According to Roehl, the group was created to “help the
prisoners spiritually—to help them get their lives together.”
When SNW made their way to Lac du Flambeau, many community members denied
their existence or chalked up their activities to “just a group of kids.”
Soon it became apparent that the group and their behavior was more
organized and more serious than just kids being kids. According to the Vilas
County Sheriff’s Department, SNW is involved in “crimes like [stealing]
guns, drugs, and burglaries.” Tribal law enforcement officials confirmed these
crimes and reported that SNW finances many of its activities through drug sales.
Initiation into SNW includes
receiving a slash mark across the chest—from one side to the other. More slash
marks are added, as a kind of status symbol, when a member recruits others to
the gang. As with corporate gangs in other cities, getting out of this gang is
difficult. According to an area probation officer, there are only two ways for
the youth to escape the gang—a severe beating or death.
Authorities identified the leaders
of SNW with the help of a member’s notebook. In the summer of 1996, tribal
police confiscated a simple spiral-bound notebook from the car of one SNW
member. The notebook recovery was significant because it provided useful and
practical information—the names and ranks of the 15-20 individuals (both boys
and girls) who were official members of SNW. This notebook also provided insight
into the gang’s level of organization.
One page of the notebook contained a two-paragraph pledge for the SNW.
This pledge illustrates a commitment to Native American culture along with a
Gangster Disciple-like slogan pledging “love, life and loyalty.”
The notebook also
offered a glimpse into the structure of the gang. For example, meetings took
place at a gang member’s house every Saturday at 7:00 P.M. According to the
notebook, each SNW member paid $25 per month in dues. One page listed the
members who were “blessed” (meaning in good standing) and those who were on
probation. Another section in the notebook listed sixteen “laws” of the
gang, including items relating to “Drugs, Stealing, Gambling, Culture,
Exploitation, and Hygiene.”
With cooperation between the newly formed Tribal Police Department, the
Vilas County Sheriff’s Department, the Tribal Courts, and the Tribal Council,
authorities defused the situation—and weakened the gang—by arresting the
leaders on a variety of charges including burglary, assault, and drug
possession. Most of the arrests led to prison sentences, which has kept the gang
leaders out of the community. “We
took the wind out of their sails,” according to Joe Fath, Chief Deputy of the
Vilas County Sheriff’s Department.
More Gang Activity in Lac du Flambeau
Authorities in Lac du Flambeau are aware of gang activity
because of graffiti, hand signs, tattoos, and clothing. These days, however,
members of gangs are more secretive about their status due to the recently
enacted gang enhancer sentencing policies, which can add extra months or years
to jail sentences if a crime is known to be gang-related
, similar to the enhanced sentences
with drug and gun-free school zones.
Well-known corporate gangs such as
the Crips and Vice Lords have failed to make serious inroads in Lac du Flambeau.
The parole officers on the reservation and in the county agree that individuals
with various gang affiliations have moved to the area but have failed to attract
large numbers of Lac du Flambeau youth. One police official surmised that large,
corporate gangs are not successful at recruiting area youth because the
newcomers are not part of the reservation establishment.
The Vilas County Sheriff’s
Department keeps track of individual gang members in the area including the
Gangster Disciples, the Latin Kings, and three adult motorcycle gangs—the
Outlaws, the High Riders, and the Lost Race.
Two years ago, a member of the Gangster Disciples from Chicago moved to
Lac du Flambeau. He had a Gangster Disciples tattoo on his left hand. According
to the Lakeland Times newspaper, two
Lac du Flambeau youth “sliced a tattoo off [his] hand that identified him with
a different gang.” According to the police and the probation agents, there is
not much evidence of gangs except when other known gang members move to the
Most of the gang activity in Lac
du Flambeau occurs away from the public eye in gang members’ homes. Police and school officials believe that other locations for
gang activity include a remote island on the reservation (because the police do
not have easy access to it), the snowmobile trails that run throughout the
reservation, and areas outside of the reservation like the nearby town of
Minocqua where Lakeland Union High School (LUHS)—the school attended by Lac du
Flambeau youth—is located.
High school counselors and
students have identified smaller, less organized gangs such as the Anishinabe
Knights and the Original (or Ojibwe) Gangsters, a group composed mostly of
girls. While these groups of kids are not considered organized gangs by school
staff and students, they do have a threatening presence in the school. One high
school junior called most of the groups “stupid little gangs.”
Whether or not the gangs are stupid, they have influence—some students
spend each day at school in fear of assault.
Recent Youth Violence
Lac du Flambeau youth say that gangs are not as prevalent
as in the past—that things are not as bad as during the “bad summer,” as
some residents call the summer of 1996. One young woman whose friends are now in
prison believes that the gang activity has died down. “They don’t do it any
more. They don’t do it any more. They realized how stupid it was, and they
don’t do it.”
According to the Vilas County Sheriff’s Department and the Tribal
Police, juvenile crime has decreased since the 1996 summer. Yet crime statistics
do not support this anecdotal report. In the past year juvenile crime has
dramatically increased. According to the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance,
Lac du Flambeau’s overall juvenile crime arrests increased by 230 percent in
the last year, from 79 juvenile arrests in 1998 to 261 in 1999.
A brutal beating last summer is one of two highly publicized examples of
juvenile crime that have recently rocked the community. On June 30, 1999, at
31-year-old Lac du Flambeau man was beaten, left naked and comatose on a trail
on the reservation. While not necessarily part of a gang, five people—two
adults (ages 30 and 18) and three juveniles (two age 15 and one age 16)—beat
and kicked the man after robbing him. All of the perpetrators were Lac du
Flambeau residents and one of the 15-year-olds was female. The 15- and 16-year
old males were eventually waived into adult court and all received sentences in
state prison for their role in the beating.
In March 1999, a 17-year-old Lac du Flambeau youth was one of two people
who beat a third using their fists, an expandable baton, and a golf club.
Although gang-related violence might be on the wane, Lac du Flambeau youth are
still committing acts of violence.
A “Bad Year” at Lakeland Union High School
While many community members talked about 1996 as a bad
summer, staff and students at LUHS are calling the 1999-2000 school year a
“bad year.” The increased
frequency and severity of violent acts is what makes this school year bad—and
it’s not just about gangs. You’re “missing the boat if you only focus on
gangs,” according to LUHS police officer Ray Mark. Much of the youth violence
at LUHS is not attributed to gangs.
A classroom assignment sparked a great deal of violence this year.
Students in a class studying propaganda were assigned the task of creating a
poster to demonstrate propaganda. One white student created a racist
poster—degrading and hostile toward Native Americans—and showed the poster
around the school. According to one school official, 23 documented incidents
have occurred as the direct result of this one poster.
But school counselor Paul Harshner calls the poster incident “a
catalyst for something that had been building.”
Treating the poster as the cause of the trouble, according to Harshner,
is missing the point entirely. The point, says Harshner, is that the Indian
students are “scared to death”—so they posture, form groups, and fight
“to stay alive.” The school has not grasped the magnitude of the issues
faced by the students—particularly the Lac du Flambeau students. “This is a
hostile place,” he says. “I promise you it is. And almost no one else will
Some students feel that school attempts to combat the violence problems
are not working. One senior (not from Lac du Flambeau) reported that during the
homeroom discussions and assemblies addressing violence, “no one takes them
seriously. No one cares—they just like being out of class.” Other students
concurred. A junior from Lac du Flambeau says that homeroom is a waste of time.
On the other hand, the senior feels that talks given by the school policeman to
each class “worked to a point.”
According to information available from the Wisconsin
Office of Justice Assistance Uniform Crime Reporting, the most glaring increase
in Lac Du Flambeau juvenile arrests was in liquor law violations, which
increased from six arrests in 1998 to eighty-seven arrests in 1999—almost
one-third of the total juvenile arrests for Lac du Flambeau in 1999. Other drugs
used regularly by Lac du Flambeau youth include marijuana, crack, and cocaine.
To a lesser degree, youth also use methamphetamines and acid.
There are two new trends in substance abuse that both the police and
parole officers have observed recently in the Lac du Flambeau community. One is
the abuse of prescription drugs by youth. In the summer of 1999, the tribe’s
pharmacy was burglarized and prescription drugs stolen.
Huffing—or inhaling—air fresheners and aerosol sprays is the other
new trend in juvenile drug use in Lac du Flambeau. Several high school students
reported friends and siblings huffing. One student recalls seeing a friend
trembling on the floor after huffing. He was scared. After the trembling
stopped, this student observed the huffer to be “slower—she talked really
slowly and was out of it.” “That
stuff kills a lot of brain cells,” according to the student. On average, four
to six cans of air freshener are stolen from the community grocery store each
The Tribal Police and probation officers have seen a wide
variety of weapons in Lac du Flambeau. Jim Somers, a Wisconsin state parole
officer located in Lac du Flambeau, confiscates many homemade weapons from
parolees on a day-to-day basis. Typical weapons include pens with exacto knives
taped on the end, crudely made explosives, and razor blades taped to a variety
According to Somers, during the hunting season almost all vehicles in the
area have guns and ammunition. “It’s just a way of life around here,” he
said. The problem is the combination of easy availability of guns and increasing
alcohol abuse. “It’s a dangerous combination,” said Somers. In the summer
of 1996, the police began to see more sophisticated weapons. At that time, they
confiscated handguns, AK-47 rifles, and various assault rifles from youth in Lac
Sources of Conflict
requirement to walk in both worlds.”
Family Resource Center
Community leaders from many organizations—police,
schools, tribal council, the tribal courts, Family Resource Center—all agree
that there is indeed a high level of youth violence, some even say gang
activity, in Lac du Flambeau. No one agrees, however, about why the gangs exist
and where these problems began. There seems to be a circle of finger-pointing
when identifying the root causes.
Police, authorities in the area, and some tribal council
members believe that outside influences drive Lac du Flambeau youth to dangerous
and violent activity. Since SNW can be traced back to the Twin Cities and their
prison system, correctional facilities are sometimes blamed for the increase of
youth violence and gang activity in Lac du Flambeau. According to Police Chief
Roehl, “When these kids go through the system like Lincoln Hills [a nearby
detention center for boys], they learn a lot. Sometimes the system doesn’t
help—it almost does more harm than good. Some will be helped, some won’t.”
The increased sophistication of
local gang activity can also be attributed to influences of more affluent Native
American communities like the Potawatami and Oneida reservations to the south of
Lac du Flambeau. Tribal Prosecutor Terry Hoyt sees “a strong influence from
the Potawatami tribe—they have a lot of money to work with.” A report
published by the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that Oneida tribe members
collect the highest per capita payments from casinos of all Wisconsin tribes. In
1996, each Oneida member collected over $20,000, compared to the average of
$2-4,000 that other Wisconsin Native American tribe members collected that year.
Some community members believe that this money increases the amount of drugs and
crime in Lac du Flambeau.
An Indian reservation—because of its status as a
sovereign nation—can have complicated relationships with other levels of
government, and Lac du Flambeau is no exception. Jurisdictional issues are not
an immediate threat or cause of youth violence and gang activity, but the
confusion over who has authority seems to frustrate many of the community
leaders in the Lac du Flambeau area—and hinder prevention and intervention
According to Vilas County Deputy Sheriff Joe Fath, his patrol officers
“often don’t know who to call” when a crime has been committed. This is
partly due to the fact that the state often will not honor tribal court orders
to incarcerate tribal youth in state detention facilities.
The conflicts and confusion about
jurisdiction when Lac du Flambeau youth enter the Vilas County judicial system
are exacerbated by the fact that the county funds the placement of tribal youth
in detention facilities. One Vilas County staff person noted that services
provided by Vilas County to the tribe cause “acrimony” between these two
groups because a “large portion of the county ‘substitute care’ budget
goes to tribal kids.” This staff
person says that the issue becomes political and that there are hard feelings
about how much the county is paying for tribal youth. Since Lac du Flambeau does
not have a youth detention facility, the tribe relies on an agreement with Vilas
County for use of their incarceration facilities.
Fortunately, the tribal
courts and the circuit court in Vilas County have positive working
relationships, and the county circuit court judge will issue an order to
incarcerate the youth. These good relations, however, do not trickle down to all
levels of county-tribe overlap. Staff
at the tribal Family Resource Center are frustrated that Vilas County staff do
not give them information about tribal youth who have gone through county
juvenile intake. The Family Resource Center staff says that they do not get
referrals, names, or incident reports and cannot, therefore, provide the needed
services to the youth.
Lack of Consequences and Consistency
Although the Lac du Flambeau courts have a zero tolerance
policy for juvenile misconduct, it holds only for minor violations. When youth
commit a crime that, for example, requires incarceration, the tribal courts
refer them to Vilas County, which does not abide by the zero tolerance policy.
Tribal Family Resource Center staff feel frustrated because they believe Vilas
County “allows too much time between crime and consequence… . It can be six
to seven months after a crime before a kid even gets to court during which time
the kid is involved with more incidents. Once they get to court after a long
delay, there are often no consequences.”
Unfortunately, the Lac du Flambeau
youth have detected this lack of consistency, too. One young man who has been
out of high school for a few years smirked when asked about the zero tolerance
policy. He just shook his head, “No, kids here are not scared of it [zero
tolerance policy]—they laugh in the face of it and the law.”
Lac du Flambeau students are a 95 percent majority at their
K-8 grade school—the Lac du Flambeau Public School. When they matriculate to
Lakeland Union High School, they become a 15 percent minority—and face a
community of unfamiliar students.
The 950 students at LUHS come from thirteen townships, four primary
school districts (including the Lac du Flambeau Public School), three court
systems (including the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Court), and from an area 800 miles
square—making this district the largest in the state, and perhaps even the
largest east of the Mississippi River. This fact alone leads to one of the
school’s greatest challenges—integrating into one student body students who
have been fierce rivals in grade school and who come from vastly different
geographical areas and social backgrounds. According to School Officer Ray Mark,
it’s culture shock for tribal kids to come to high school where expectations
are so different. And while this is true for the white kids coming from afar,
they don’t have the same racial element to deal with.
Both Indian and white students talk about racism at the high school. Two
senior girls who are white feel that one of the main problems at the high school
is that there are only two races—which leaves students unaccustomed to dealing
with differences. According to one of the girls, “there is very unbased
prejudice but so much prejudice.” These
girls feel that school efforts to improve race relations are not working: when
mentioning the recent Race Week at school, one girl said, “You’ve got to be
kidding me. We’re not in kindergarten.” The school wanted everyone to shake
hands but the girls reported that this would never work because each race
believes the other has diseases and doesn’t want to touch. These girls
identify some of the racism coming from the parents of white students—parents
feel that Indians are “taking away our rights.”
Some Lac du Flambeau adults also influence the racial tensions at LUHS.
In Lac du Flambeau, there is a “family lore about the school—about
what happened in the past or what can happen in the future” according to one
community member. This lore—which seems to exacerbate issues at LUHS—indicates
that this year is not the only bad one at LUHS. Lac du Flambeau youth report
that their parents and even grandparents tell stories about the violence and
trouble when they were students there. This talk among tribal members influences
the youth. One freshman student
from Lac du Flambeau reported that other Indian students were talking about
fighting the whites at LUHS—even before they were students at LUHS.
Charges of racism are also aimed at white school staff. One freshman
student from Lac du Flambeau says that Indians gets punished more often—that
Indian students are physically restrained during fights while white students are
left to walk away, for example. This student also reports that Indian and white
students are seated separately in some classrooms and that white students have a
longer period of time to complete homework. This student has had older siblings
at the school who caused a lot of trouble. When one teacher met this student,
the teacher said, “Oh another [family name] kid.” When this student reported
that two more family members would soon be at the school, the teacher said,
“Thanks for the warning.” A
high school junior reported that a teacher wouldn’t call on his sister even
though she was the only one with her hand raised.
Some of the racism is unintentional, according to Counselor Paul Harshner.
Nonetheless, “There’s a great deal of denial that there is hostility
and that the violence is related to race,” says Harshner. “But things have
been so bad this year that they can’t deny it anymore. Now denial is about the
causes [of the trouble].” Two
high school seniors who are not tribal members also report that this year has
been worse. They note, “Racism started earlier and has been building and not
solved; both sides think people are out to get them.”
People from the county courts, the schools, and within the tribe all
report that students who got A’s and B’s at Lac du Flambeau Public School
reach the high school and start to fail. The
hostility and tension at LUHS—the racism, too—appear to be important sources
of stress that lead Lac du Flambeau students to struggle and fail at LUHS.
Conflicts Within the Tribe
While racism certainly places tremendous pressure on Lac du
Flambeau youth, violence and conflict also exist between tribal members. The
beatings last spring and summer were between tribal members, for example.
Indian student mentor Melvin
Buckholtz identified the “crab pot syndrome” as a major source of trouble
for Indian youth. This syndrome uses the analogy of the crab pot in which one
crab is climbing up and trying to get out of the pot while the crabs at the
bottom of the pot try to pull the climber back down. According to Buckholtz,
“Indian kids who do well are teased, criticized, and pulled back down” by
other Indian students. Indians kids who are struggling insult the Indian
students who are succeeding by calling them “apples”: implying that the
Indian is red on the outside but white on the inside. Judge Ernest St. Germaine
believes that “doers make the non-doers look bad,” so the non-doers have to
punish the doers.
One white senior girl at LUHS says that “Indians don’t like it when
other Indians hang out with whites.” It’s
“unfortunate,” she says, because she has friends who are Indian.
One of the most serious intra-tribal issues is dysfunction
in tribal families—including alcoholism and other substance abuse, domestic
violence, and child abuse. The family is an important piece of the puzzle when
trying to understand the reasons that area youth participate in gangs and engage
in violent behavior. It’s also an easy place to point blame. Family Resource
Center employees like Juli Smith are encouraged that in Lac du Flambeau “many
families are breaking the cycle” of dysfunction. Nonetheless, a significant
and influential group of families are not.
But it’s taboo in Indian communities to talk about other
families—families handle things themselves, which is a large part of the
problem, according to some community members. Many young members of these
troubled families want to be well and are rejecting the bad. But they still have
to go home to the bad environment where they are torn down: It’s “too hard
to fight against it” when there are not role models in the family, according
to one community member.
The chief tribal judge, who sees the area youth on a consistent basis in
his courtroom, believes that these kids have basic needs that are not being met
at home. “Kids are looking for continuity, order, discipline, and a
schedule…. They feel like they can’t count on their parents anymore.”
Melvin Buckholtz, tribal member and Indian Student Mentor at Lakeland
Union High School, concurs and sees hopelessness and despair in Lac du Flambeau
youth as a result of family trouble. This hopelessness, according to Buckholtz,
makes it very hard for Indian youth to look into the future: “They’re not
sure if there will be a party at home after school; not sure if there will be
dinner for them; not sure if their clothes will be washed; not sure how
they’re getting to school in the morning.”
The lack of such basic needs as
food and clean clothing makes goal-setting a foreign concept to the community
youth. While extended family plays an important role in the life of tribal youth
by helping meet some of these needs, the chief tribal judge feels that “[kids]
need to know there’s something more beneath their feet than a slippery rug.
And they need it from their parents. Their grandparents can fill in from time to
time, but they need it first and foremost from their parents.”
“We need more
people to say ‘I care’ in an unstructured way.”
Indian Student Mentor
This community is working hard to improve the lives of its
citizens—young and old alike. Along with government grants, money from the
casino has helped fund many community initiatives for prevention and
Tribal Family Resource Center
The Family Resource Center—now located in a new building
in the center of town—offers alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA) counseling,
family counseling, Indian child welfare services, mental health counseling, and
many additional programs. Counselors at the center also serve students at Lac du
Flambeau Public School and Lakeland Union High School who need individual
Staff at the Family Resource
Center run many programs for youth. CHOICES is a school-year program for ninth-
and tenth-grade girls while the Family Assistance Network System (FANS) is an
eight-week summer program. The Community Coordinated Response (CCR) program
provides a forum in which people can come together and talk about their
Lac du Flambeau Public School
The newly built Lac du Flambeau Public School is a
ten-minute walk from the casino. Completed in 1993, this school serves 550 K-8
students as well as children in Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
Ninety-five percent of the students at the school are Native Americans. The new
school embraces the new era of education—computer labs abound, the rooms are
bright and cheerful with skylights and large windows—while also embracing the
heritage of the study body—walls are adorned with Native American artifacts,
and student-made dream catchers hang from the ceiling.
The conflict resolution room (CRR)
is a primary method for prevention and intervention at the school. The CRR has
multiple purposes: to teach and conduct mediation, teach and practice conflict
resolution skills, provide a safe haven for youth who are having problems, and
as a place for in- and after-school suspensions. A primary tool for the CRR
staff is a behavior improvement plan, which is written with the student. School
staff believes that the CRR works about 98 percent of the time and they see the
program as unique to this school. CRR director Molly West feels that the program
allows the school staff to know a lot more about what’s going on in the school
than they would without it.
A school board “anti-gang policy” also exists as a prevention method.
The policy defines a gang as “individuals who associate with each other
primarily for criminal, disruptive, and/or other activities prohibited by law
and/or by the School District’s rule and regulations.” School administrators
believe that the policy is working because they see little gang activity at the
school. One school staff member reports that there is little gang activity at
the grade school “because the kids know that the school will crack down
immediately.” The person notes,
however, that kids just take their activities elsewhere, including to shacks in
The Leadership Academy is a school within the school. This charter
school—also called the alternative education program—has one class for
students in grades 4-5 and another class for students in grades 6-8. This
program serves students with average to above-average intelligence who are not
learning disabled (LD) or emotionally disturbed (ED) but who are just not making
it—“falling through the cracks” according to one staff member—in the
regular classrooms. With 10-15 students in each classroom, the program seeks to
help students have a more positive attitude about school and uses a computerized
curriculum to teach reading, spelling, language, math, and science.
Lakeland Union High School
Two Indian student mentors aid Lac du Flambeau teens in
their years at LUHS. Funded by the tribe, they provide a greatly needed service
to tribal kids at the high school. These two mentors help remind the students
that someone cares about them, that they need to plan for the future, and that
they have support. LUHS also has two social workers and two guidance
counselors—more than most schools around the state.
The 1999-2000 school year marks
the first year of the LUHS school board’s zero tolerance policy for violent
activity—one of the last schools in the state to implement such a policy.
Because the program is so new, it appears that students are testing the system.
Since November 1999, says high school parent and Family Resource Center staff
person Juli Smith, there have been 11 expulsions—only three of which were
boys. But, Smith says, the school is still learning how to implement this new
policy and it is typical for there to be more suspensions during the first year
of policy implementation.
The alternative education program
offered at the grade school—the Leadership Academy—might soon be offered to
high school students. Through a consortium with Lac du Flambeau Public School,
the high school will use the Lac du Flambeau Public School facilities in the
evenings to educate students who aren’t making it at the high school. The
program, which is scheduled to being in the fall of 2000, will involve students
working 4-6 hours during the day and attending school for 2-3 hours in the
evening. While the high school program is not restricted to tribal students,
staff expects most of the students to be from Lac du Flambeau.
A Hopeful Future?
“I have to say
that we are looking very hard at trying to work with our young people who need
help beyond the constructive programs that are being addressed at our
Chairman of the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council,
Lac du Flambeau
News, Feb. 19, 1999
Leaders of the Lac du Flambeau band of Lake Superior
Chippewa have their eyes open to the plight of youth on the reservation. This is
an important first step in combating youth violence and gang activity—as well
as for giving tribal youth a more hopeful future. Youth interaction with the
surrounding non-Indian communities, however, continues to be a struggle for
today’s tribal youth—similar to the struggle their parents and grandparents
faced. Can the struggle stop with this generation? What will it take to stop the struggle?
Student achievement at LUHS is
improving. While only 64 percent of Flambeau kids graduate compared to 92
percent graduating school-wide, the number has been as low as 28 percent in the
past. Yet one high school senior from Lac du Flambeau said that she
“wouldn’t send my kids [to LUHS], never. I want to send them far, far
away.” Strong emotions like these
are common among Lac du Flambeau youth. Something
still needs to change for them.
Both white and Indian high school students offer
suggestions for improving race relations, as well as for reducing the violence
One Lac du Flambeau
junior suggests having one study hall for the kids “who have trouble with each
other.” A student leader or
mediator would listen to both sides of the story and help find a solution. An
adult counselor, he recommends, would be there as back-up. This same student
would like to have two assemblies—one with white students and one with Indian
students. The assembly would be a time for students to talk to other students,
rather than the usual adult talking to students. He would like to tell fellow
students to follow rules and integrate and that “not everything is racial.”
The two senior girls,
who are not from Lac du Flambeau, recommend teaching more about other cultures
in class. The current “world cultures” class is not enough, they say. What
is needed is a class that really looks at how others live. “We have so much to
learn from other cultures,” one girl said.
One Lac du Flambeau
freshman reports that the expulsions are working—she hears her friends talking
about not wanting to miss credits.
As Chairman Maulson said, the Youth Center is providing a
broad array of constructive programs and is an important prevention method. Yet
there is a group of students, those engaging in youth violence and gang
activity, which the Youth Center is not reaching. Mentor Melvin Buckholtz
believes that a group of adults is needed to say “I care” in an unstructured
way. The tribe now has a van and two parents who take tribal kids to a wrestling
club in town—which integrates the kids with the surrounding community before
high school. According to Buckholtz, more efforts like this one are needed.
“Honesty, caring, and sincerity” are what make the difference with youth, he
While Buckholtz has suggestions for the tribe, counselor Paul Harshner
offers suggestions for the high school. He sees a need to “change professional
intuitive philosophies.” Rather
than using the current carrot and stick method for behavior modification, the
school, in his opinion, needs to use a new system built on mutual respect and in
which the teacher is a “continuous learner, guide, mentor, and sage.”
Harshner believes that it is making a “head and heart” connection
that is most important for helping reduce the violence, rather than looking for
“magical bullets” in new programs.
Staff at the school seem only to see the hostility and violent behavior,
says Harshner. The kids, he says, need the teachers and staff to look behind the
hostility, to be patient, persistent, and show Indian students that they care.
“Have reasonable rules and enforce them fairly,” says Police Officer
Ray Mark. Rather than make new rules or laws, consistent enforcement of current
laws and rules is needed—and in a timely manner. A community-wide effort,
between Vilas County staff, both schools, the Family Resource Center, the tribal
court and council, and other programs that work with youth can help create a
consistent set of consequences.
Improving Prevention and Intervention
Community members who report that there has been less gang
activity since the SNW leaders went to prison also note that these gang leaders
are getting out of prison soon—one, in fact, was released recently. The
concerted effort to take the wind out of the gang’s sails once might be needed
As a result, the Lac du Flambeau tribe must be prepared to employ the
targeted and timely methods of law enforcement used during the bad summer. Some
community members have mentioned reinstituting tribal banishment as a way to
handle these youth. Sending them
back to prison is also mentioned. These two methods, however, could be
considered by the surrounding communities as socially
irresponsible—particularly banishment—because the tribe is leaving other
communities to handle these troubled youth. Other methods of intervention are