Fighting the pull of Aboriginal gangs

Dr. Alanaise Goodwill is fighting Aboriginal gangs with her weapon of choice: research.

Goodwill’s work provides crucial insights that could help disrupt the pattern of deadly gang lifestyles impacting vulnerable Aboriginal youth. It’s needed as never before: Aboriginal gangs make up about 20 per cent of Canada’s total gang population, with membership growing at an alarming rate.

Despite the scope of this social crisis, Canadian researchers have long neglected the issue of Aboriginal gangs and street violence. Goodwill is tackling the challenge with the solid support and resources of UBC behind her.

The new assistant professor in the Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology and Special Education recently completed her PhD dissertation on Aboriginal gangs at UBC.

Her research exposes the two main reasons Aboriginal youth join gangs. The first is violence related to the experiences of poverty: half of Canada’s First Nations children live below the poverty line. In Manitoba—the epicentre of Aboriginal gang life—this figure jumps to 62 per cent. Joining a gang is often the best way to get basic necessities such as food, safety and shelter.

The second reason is incarceration. For the disproportionate number of Canadian Aboriginals in jail, gang membership is often a key to survival.

Goodwill, a member of Manitoba’s Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation, has found that the only real exit strategy for gang members is either premature death or the unlikely possibility of finding legitimate work that pays at least as much as the proceeds of gang crime.

She believes that with important research institutions such as UBC making the study of Aboriginal gangs a priority, solutions will be found. “Currently, the federal and provincial governments lack useful intervention strategies to prevent Aboriginal youth from joining gangs,” she says.

Goodwill points to the promise of “wraparound” intervention—a community-based, culturally relevant strategy where at-risk youth choose familiar adults to work with child and family service agencies and their schools in order to help them find jobs and stay out of jail.

“My research is committed to generating evidence that is relevant, respectful and responsive to the needs and goals of our communities,” says Goodwill. ”By focusing on the multiple, interrelated factors that result in gang violence impacting vulnerable Aboriginal youth, we hope to find ways to break this devastating cycle.” 


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