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Guardian Angels on the reservation

 

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Fed up with growing gang violence, Montana tribal leaders this weekend will start the first-ever American Indian reservation chapter of the Guardian Angels. The new chapter of the citizens' crime-watch group — whose members are known by their red berets in New York, Chicago and other U.S. cities — will begin training about 50 recruits on the rural Fort Peck Indian Reservation. The sprawling reservation on the plains of eastern Montana is home to 6,000 of the approximately 10,000 enrol led members of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes. Chauncey Whitwright III, vice chairman of the Wolf Point Community Organization, said the children of the 3,200-squaremile reservation are vulnerable to gangs that have crept in from the outside. Other Montana tribes, including the Blackfeet, Rocky Boy, Crow and Northern Cheyenne, report the same problem, Whitwright said, and he hopes the new Guardian Angels chapter will eventually expand its programs and patrols and give teens there an alternative. "There are all kinds of gangs roaming around up here," Whitwright said Thursday. "Our kids are in danger, they're being influenced, they're being targeted. It's going on every day of the week ... and they're busy recruiting." The Guardian Angels, started in New York City more than 30 years ago, has chapters in 14 countries and 140 cities. Curtis Sliwa, the outspoken founder of the Guardian Angels, called it a breakthrough that the traditionally insular Native American leaders invited the Guardian Angels to the reservation. The new chapter will be a model for other tribes and reservations in the West and among Canada's First Nations, he said. "We're dealing with a problem that everybody recognizes, but most folks haven't wanted to try anything different," Sliwa said. "In this case, the Indians said, 'We're going to do it for ourselves.'" Sliwa plans to be at the Fort Peck reservation for the opening, when the new chapter plans to select their leaders and start putting the recruits through background checks and training. Whitwright expects patrols will start in about six months. A Justice Department study from last year concluded that most gangs on reservations have little or no direct ties to national-level street gangs. Some urban and suburban gangs are expanding drug operations onto Native American reservations, but most are local gangs typically composed of Native American youth, according to the study. But Whitwright and Sliwa say the increased gang violence on reservations is coming from outside the tribes. The gangs come in because they can exploit the reservations that have multiple and often confusing law enforcement jurisdictions, Whitwright said.

 
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