American Indian Youth Involvement in Urban Street Gangs: Invisible No More?

Urban street gang characteristics and crimes are present on American Indian reservations. The research on American Indian gangs has focused on the reservations with minimal attention paid to their interaction with American Indian gang members in the urban setting. Examining this interaction is of particular importance since Census 2000 figures indicate that 64 percent of American Indian/Alaskan Natives reside in the urban areas. If we are to continue building the knowledge base about American Indian gangs, then any exploration of Native gangs must include American Indians in the urban setting. This is the first study to focus on urban Indian gangs.

The purpose of this study was to explore the extent and nature of American Indian involvement in contemporary street gangs with a secondary goal of assessing the influence of a gang impacted metropolitan area on Native gangs on the reservations. For this study, forty-two metropolitan areas in the U.S. were chosen as well as reservations with a tribal police department and sheriff's departments whose jurisdiction was inclusive of, or adjacent to, the metropolitan and/or tribal areas. A survey instrument methodology was employed.

The literature on American Indian gang members alleged that urban Indian gang members only joined other established ethnic gangs. This study found that urban Indian youth have formed their own gangs with criminal participation running the gamut as other gangs. However, the levels of participation and severity are lower than other street gangs. Results also found no correlation between distance or exposure to an urban center and the presence of gangs on the reservations. It appears that it is an adoption of a 'gang mentality' that is occurring as opposed to a physical exposure to other gang members.

Fortunately, the levels of American Indian gang involvement are still lower than established street gangs, particularly in the area of gang violence. This fact makes this a timely opportunity for strengthening prevention and intervention efforts towards lessening the lure of the 'gang life' for American Indian youth, both in the urban and reservation settings, before they too become entrenched in the destructive gang lifestyle.


Julie Hailer


Nancy Parezo





Arizona State Museum: 

P9791 H13a 2008


ATT 3303993

UA Library: 

E9791 2008
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences