In Indian country we are at a crossroads. On one side we have the path of hope, the one of community making. On the other, we have the way of despair, the way of gangs and violence.
I have identified 20 trends among our kids and young adults that contribute to their involvement in gangs and violence.
Each one of these trends has received an answer from the gang world.
Every time we fail to make community with our young people, the gangs have been there, ready to incorporate them into their system. Gangs have responded to each one of our failures to make community by creating trends of their own, trends that not withstanding their negativity provide some relief to the alienation that many of our youngsters have experienced in our society.
Given our failure to incorporate our alienated youth into our system, I have termed our current society as a "pseudo-community."
Here are the trends generated by the pseudo-community in which many of our kids and youth find themselves. The response that they give to each one of these trends will lead them either to get involved in community making - if they manage to follow the path of hope - or to get involved in gangs or violence if they give into despair.
Trends generated in a pseudo-community:
Alienation, perception of being unwanted, poverty, low self esteem, boredom, loneliness, inability for delayed gratification, dependency, no guidance, feelings of unattractiveness, lack of abilities, invisibility, no vocation, disconnection from others, low wage / high labor, isolation, no sense of self, powerlessness, depression and chaos.
The gangs provide links into the life, outlook, environment and network of the kids who join them.
Here is what our kids are getting from the gangs.
Trends generated in gangs:
Belonging, wanted, money, artificial high, excitement, family / relations, here and now responses, autonomy, guides, attractive, skill development, claim / visibility, crime carrier, importance, low labor / high return, complicity, identity, force, rage and order.
When we compare these trends with the ones generated by our modern corporations we find many similarities. The fact is that corporations that relentlessly pursue profit with no regard for civility generate the same trends and promote the formation of the same social character that we find in gangs and gang activities.
What can we offer the youth involved in gangs that they will not find in that system? We can discover with them the power of community making and civility, the participation in restoring the balance of interdependency, the power of hope and sense of purpose, and the restoration of our cultures.
We can help them become the pride of their communities; discover the talents that they can offer the world and the sense of belonging to a circle that loves them.
Trends generated in community making:
Homecoming, feeling loved, accessible resources, healthy sense of self interest, discovery, creativity, healthy relations, vision, active dreaming, inter-dependency, mentors / guides, honor, critical thinking, recognition, sense of a good future, significance - your life matters, meaningful incentives, support, affirmation, power and awareness / healing, ritual / ceremony / community making.
There was a time when the tribe as a system provided all of these positive elements. We must be creative enough to bring these elements back to Indian country, from the reservations all the way to the cities.
It is quite clear that we need to change some of the conditions of our society, as well as foster personal attributes among our kids in order to meet the trends of community making.
These trends require us to view our youth as resources for our communities not just as problems to be solved. We cannot implement these trends with out them.
In order to see these trends come to fruition, we are going to need to invest ourselves in promoting positive change among our communities, our government, our organizations and our corporations.
We all have a part to play if we want to encourage our youth to take the path of hope rather than the one of despair.
Roberto Dansie is a clinical psychologist. In 1997 he received the golden medallion from the National Indian Health Board for his contributions to health in Indian country. He lives in northern California.