In Brief


Understanding and Responding to Youth Gangs in Indian Country

Consensus that youth gangs have become a cause for major concern in Indian country is growing. Once considered a “big city” problem, youth gangs have emerged in small cities and rural counties across the United States in the past decade. Recent reports by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations state that gangs of varying levels of sophistication can now be found on most American Indian reservations and that these gangs are accountable for the dramatic increase in violent crimes in Indian country over the past decade. In recent years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has conducted two surveys of tribal law enforcement to better understand the scope and nature of the gang problem and has increased resources and coordination with other Federal agencies to respond to this problem.

Effective responses to gangs in any setting include ongoing, careful assessment of the local gang problem. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is funding a broad-based assessment of gang activity within the Navajo Nation. The final report, now in development, will include discussion of the nature and causes of Navajo gang violence and recommendations for responses to gangs that may be adapted by other tribes.

OJJDP is committed to developing knowledge about youth gangs in Indian country and to supporting effective approaches that address this problem. To this end, the agency awarded grants to the following two research projects this year. The California State University, Sacramento, will extend the approach used in the Navajo study to examine the factors shaping the origins, organization, and activities of American Indian youth gangs in up to six reservation and urban settings. In this 2-year study, which is part of OJJDP’s Tribal Youth Program, researchers will also identify and recommend promising responses to gangs in Indian country. The second project, still under development, is a new Indian country gang survey conducted by the National Youth Gang Center in conjunction with BIA. This 1-year study will provide improved estimates of gang prevalence and current information on gang activities and community responses in Indian country.

OJJDP also supports gang prevention efforts in Indian country through the Gang Prevention Through Targeted Outreach (GPTTO) program of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. GPTTO provides youth at risk of joining gangs with educational activities that focus on personal development, such as conflict resolution, goal setting, job skills, and decisionmaking. GPTTO also offers recreational activities that promote interpersonal skills and serve as alternatives to the gang lifestyle. In recent years, Indian country Boys & Girls Clubs in Box Elder, MT, Lame Deer, MT, Mescalero, NM, and Sisseton, SD, have received funding to implement GPTTO. Training and support for GPTTO have also been provided to the Boys & Girls Club in Ottawa County, OK, which serves numerous tribes, and to the Fort Belknap reservation as part of its participation in OJJDP’s SafeFutures initiative.

Reducing gang activity in Indian country requires continued coordination at the tribal, Federal, State, and local levels. Effective programming must be supported by sophisticated and culturally appropriate research, training, and technical assistance. Through the Tribal Youth Program OJJDP will continue to build on current efforts to reduce gang crime in Indian country.

For additional information about youth gangs in Indian country, e-mail Phelan Wyrick at or call 202–514–9295.


Juvenile Justice - Challenges Facing American Indian Youth:
On the Front Lines With Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell
December 2000,
Volume VII · Number 2