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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)

SPECIAL REPORT

The ballad of Daniel Wolfe Add to ...

In the context of the late 1980s and early 1990s – with the armed standoffs at Oka in Quebec and Ipperwash provincial park in Ontario and the death of native leader J.J. Harper at the hands of Winnipeg police – you can see how the rise of the Indian Posse and other native gangs fit an impression of indigenous youth in revolt.

In his letters from prison, Daniel would sometimes sign off with lines such as “Fuck Canada, this land is our people,” or he would draw a Canadian flag upside down.

But the vague political ideas of the gang's early years, Richard admits, took a back seat to basic survival. And, he adds, those ideas have no role in the gang today.

Sgt. MacKinnon of the Winnipeg police dismisses the political rhetoric as a convenient way of dressing up brutal crimes committed for personal gain. “If you look at the victims of their homicides, the girls they force into prostitution and the people they sell drugs to, they're victimizing their own people,” he says. “There is nothing cultural about the Indian Posse. The only cultural thing is a gang subculture.”

But the gang's history and the Wolfe brothers' story are significant for what they reveal about the roots of violence and dysfunction in many prairie communities: Richard and Daniel were born into a family that suffered generations of pain as a result of residential schools. Their parents were addicted to alcohol and drugs. They had little supervision or care as children. Their home was violent. Daniel, as his mother acknowledges, almost certainly had fetal-alcohol-spectrum disorder, which impairs judgment and impulse control.

The cost of what they started is almost incalculable. It's a plague that stalks neighbourhoods west from Winnipeg to B.C. and north to the most remote and desolate reserves. The direct, measurable impacts, according to a report by the Saskatchewan Criminal Intelligence Service, are mostly financial: The gang's presence, or even perceived presence, drives down property values, boosts insurance costs and generally diverts resources to crime prevention.

The gang also erodes confidence in public institutions – not only in police and the courts, but in schools and the general possibility of making a living legitimately. It preys on poor people by getting them hooked on drugs or the fast money of prostitution.

And then there are the immense indirect costs, the wasted potential of so many young people who end up dead or in prison when they are capable of so much more – including, no doubt, the Wolfe brothers themselves.

Coda: ‘We have to make that change now'

Daniel's letters to Richard from 1997 to 2007, written in a bubbly script, document the ups and downs of their relationship and the gang. He gives Richard updates on who is locked up and who is dead. There's always news about their family, particularly their younger brother, Preston. Although he was just following in their footsteps, Daniel was critical of Preston's bad behaviour as something that had to be stamped out.

There are also references to Daniel's two children with former girlfriends, whom he rarely saw. The mother of one of his children committed suicide on the Valentine's Day after his death, saying she couldn't live without him. Their child now lives with a grandparent.

The letters also make reference to their father, Richard Wolfe: “I haven't seen dad yet, but that's nothing new,” Daniel wrote from prison in 1998. Later, he wrote that their father was in a Saskatchewan paper because he stabbed a friend to death after a day spent drinking hairspray. According to the report, it was his 55th conviction.

Toward the end, Daniel began reassessing his life. He talked about leaving the gang. In 2007, he wrote to Richard from the Regina Correctional Centre: “We're not getting any younger bro. We have to make that change now. I told mom to show me the way on that road, so now I have to chill on all that other shit!”

He never made those changes.

Sgt. MacKinnon says that although Daniel is dead, and although there have been a number of high-profile Indian Posse members sent to jail recently, the gang remains a top priority for police. And that's not likely to change.

“We'd be naive if we thought the IP was going to go away,” he says. “Here we are 20 years later, you've got in some cases grandsons of original members who now see themselves as IP.”

Joe Friesen is a reporter for The Globe and Mail.

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