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When Daniel Wolfe was just 12 years old, he co-founded what was to become Canada's largest criminal gang. (RCMP/RCMP)
When Daniel Wolfe was just 12 years old, he co-founded what was to become Canada's largest criminal gang. (RCMP/RCMP)

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The ballad of Daniel Wolfe Add to ...

The guards at Regina Correctional Centre had just finished the evening cell check when Daniel Wolfe tapped his younger half-brother on the shoulder and told him to get ready. The escape was on.

Small and wiry, with long hair and glasses, Daniel had been anticipating this moment for four months. He'd realized there was a two-metre blind spot at the end of the long corridor that housed the prison unit – a place not covered by the security camera. So that was where he'd decided to dig.

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Using nail clippers, he'd unscrewed the cover of a heating vent directly beneath the camera. Then he and his half-brother, Preston Buffalocalf, had started prying and scraping at the wall behind it with a kind of mini-crowbar they'd made by breaking off a piece of a metal table.

They would dig for an hour each night after dinner, while other inmates did calisthenics to distract the guards. It had taken a month and a half just to get through the steel plate at the back of the heater. Then it was weeks of chipping away at the cinder block with a homemade chisel. They stuck a piece of fabric from a winter coat behind the grill to hide their progress. And they flushed the dust and debris down the toilet.

“I thought that we'd get caught in the act. All the banging, all the noise, the dust all over us,” Mr. Buffalocalf says.

Accused murderers almost never break out of jail. But Daniel, awaiting trial and facing the certainty of life in prison, had thought about little else since his arrest in January, 2008.

Daniel was a leader – and not only in the prison block. Although he had barely a Grade 6 education, he was sharp, often charming, and ruthless. When he was just 12, he and his older brother had founded a gang that became the largest in Canada, with a manifesto that called for reclaiming native pride by force. While still in their teens, they were burning through hundreds of thousands of dollars from an expanding criminal empire.

The Wolfe brothers are the most intriguing figures among a generation of native youth devastated by the impact of gangs. In the past two decades, thousands of young native men in Western Canada, on reserves and in cities, have been affected through personal involvement or family association or as a victim of gang crime. The groups' promotion of drugs, prostitution, robbery and murder have damaged communities and destroyed lives.

It all began with one family, the Wolfes, and the family they created – the Indian Posse. In a lengthy investigation, The Globe and Mail has reconstructed their story through more than two dozen interviews with gang members, relatives, lawyers and police, as well as court transcripts and Daniel's prison letters. Richard Wolfe, Daniel's older brother and fellow Indian Posse founder, spoke at length for the first time since his own release from prison.

1976: Born under a bad sign

Susan Creeley was drinking the night Daniel Wolfe was born. She says she drank almost every night in those days, the summer of 1976. Just 18, she finished an entire bottle of Five Star whisky before giving birth at a Regina hospital. Daniel was small and weak, three months premature. He was her second son. Her first was Richard, a year older. They were each named for their father, Richard Daniel Wolfe.

Ms. Creeley is now 53, and sober since 1999. She has a job and has immersed herself in native spirituality. But at age 5, like thousands of other native kids, she was taken away to residential school, where she suffered sexual and physical abuse.

“It has made my life a miserable life,” she says. “I started drinking heavily when I was 12, 13 years old. That was killing the pain.” At that age, she escaped the school and ran to the city. She survived on welfare, living with her sister, until she met her future husband: “He was old enough to drink and I wanted to go drinking. That's what I wanted to do, any place, any time.”

A few years after Daniel's birth, they moved to Winnipeg. Ms. Creeley and her husband, also a residential-school survivor, struggled with poverty and addiction. Their home was loving but often violent.

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