From time to time, Daniel and Richard were taken to foster homes. They always ran away – sometimes back home, more often to the streets.
Richard, who was released from the penitentiary last fall after serving 15 years, says he and his younger brother were inseparable as kids. Daniel was the risk-taker with the infectious sense of humour. Richard was ambitious and thoughtful.
They would stay out late, completely unsupervised. When they were 8 or 9, the boys and a few friends were at a department store downtown at closing time. They hid under a pile of coats until the store emptied and had the run of the toy department until they were discovered by a guard.
A year or two later, they stole a van and drove from Winnipeg to Regina. While Richard took the wheel, he remembers, Daniel crouched on the floor to operate the gas pedal. They had been gone a week when the police caught up to them.
Richard says he was arrested 20 times before he was 12 years old.
“I remember when the cops used to bring them home, I'd say, ‘Okay,'” Ms. Creeley says. “I more or less let them live their own lives. Whenever a problem came at me, I picked up the bottle.”
One moment that left an indelible mark was the day the Wolfe brothers saw their mother in hospital, beaten black and blue by their father. “We were pissed off,” Richard says. “We both wanted to hurt him. I think he took off to Saskatchewan after that. … Every time I tried to find out where he was, people said he's on the street or he's drinking.”
1988: The advent of the Indian Posse
The gang that would brutalize so many Canadian native communities was born in the Wolfe family home on a summer's day in Winnipeg in 1988. There were seven founding members, all of them native and from similarly poor families. They lived in the neighbourhood just south of the rail yards that divide Winnipeg. Daniel, 12, was the youngest.
They hit on the name “Posse” while flipping through the pages of a hip-hop magazine. They chose Indian, rather than native, much the way black rap groups often defiantly labelled themselves with the N-word. “It was about us Indians sticking together at the time. Because we were looked down on,” Richard says. “We were living under the same roofs, had the same struggles: No food in the fridge. Empty beer bottles in the house. People coming over for hours at a time at night and you don't even know who the hell they are.”
Richard was 13 when he bought his first handgun. He took it to school tucked in to the back of his pants. Soon he was keeping an AK-47 hidden in a heating vent at home. “Even back then, I was skipping classes and doing scores. Every time I had to report back to the youth [correctional]centre, I always had money and dope on me. Sometimes, if I had to drive there, I stole a car,” Richard says.
The brothers' academic career ended shortly after that. But their criminal careers were just taking off.
They got their start in car stereos. The going rate was $100 and there was a buyer in Chinatown. From there, they graduated to break-ins and armed robbery, in which they excelled.
“When we first started dealing with [the Indian Posse] they were pretty much just robbery crews. They were doing bingo halls, gas bars, convenience stores, banks,” Winnipeg Police Constable Nick Leone says. “Even back then, they were very violent, as far as street gangs went.”
Gangs are a fact of life in many cities today. But that wasn't always the case. An academic study found almost no mention of gangs in Winnipeg from the demise of the Dew Drop Gang around 1950 until the mid-1980s, just before the dawn of the major native gangs: the Indian Posse, the Manitoba Warriors and the Native Syndicate. As the Posse's origins show, there was an influence from the era's African-American gang images. But mainly it was the situation of urban aboriginal populations, which included people who were overwhelmingly poor, with significant drug, alcohol and domestic violence problems. The children of that generation formed gangs, surrogate families, to fill the void.