Gang life is seen in all cultures and places, and the Blood Tribe is one of them. One Blood Reserve resident is trying to give youth an alternative to street life by getting them involved in rodeo.
It’s easy to get lost in an identity crisis when you are young and in the search for acceptance, you can get involved in the negative things in life. Native youth are often left out of mainstream society and this story expresses their struggle fir an inclusive way to make them feel like they don’t need to run with gangs, that it’s okay to stand alone and represent yourself.
STORY AND PHOTO BY TODD EAGLE CHILD
Fighting in public is totally reprehensible, illegal and nothing but trouble. In a sports arena, it’s just another day, and if at the professional level, it can even pay well.
In an article titled Unnecessary Roughness? School Sports, Peer Networks, and Male Adolescent Violence, by Derek A. Kreager from Pennsylvania State University, he states by rewarding physical aggression with on-the-field success and increased prestige, contact sports are portrayed as both elevating athletes above their peers and increasing off-the-field violence toward perceived outsiders and “weaker” students.
“Masculinized sports then becomes socially sanctioned stepping-stones toward privilege and power—sites where coaches, peers, parents, and the media encourage masculine identities founded on physical aggression and domination.”
The article hints on society’s perceived positive impact on adolescent development for social bonding, fair play and developing social competence. However, the article also states that athletics embed youth value systems with homophobia, sexism, racism and ruthless competition. Where middle-class white males have the most to gain, disadvantaged minorities and females are marginalized for short-term status benefits and the illusion of professional careers that may never materialize.
Although there can be negative outcomes from organized sports, another article states the opposite. Edwin Moses from the Huffington Post, wrote The Role of Sport in Addressing Youth Violence, states that according to Kids Play USA Foundation, youths with no adult supervision for three days a week are twice as likely to hang out with gang members and three times as likely to engage in criminal behaviour.
Moses writes, “There are two ways we can address youth violence and crimes: through prevention and reducing recidivism, which is the tendency to relapse into criminal behaviour. By harnessing the power of sport and providing youth sport programs with strong mentors, the sport for development sector can strongly impact the lives of youth and environments in communities to help prevent youth violence and reduce recidivism.”
“You don’t need to run in gangs or use drugs, believe in God and yourself.”
TYSON BLACK WATER
Locally on the Blood Reserve, Tyson Black Water mentors young Blood Tribe youth and runs the Kainai Rodeo Club to help at risk youth to find an alternative to the streets and trouble.
“I think it’s a lack of self-identity, a lack of jobs, a lot of people feel they don’t belong and are suffering from a lack of love, extending down from the residential school syndrome… We also found that there was a lack of youth activities in our community, so we wanted to kick-start this youth horsemanship program.” Said Black Water when asked about the recent epidemic of violence, drugs and gangs.
At the Rodeo Club practice, which is volunteer-based, children from across the reserve file into the rodeo arena. As they take their seats you can smell the dirt and hear the horses snorting. The arena is warm despite the cold winter outside.
“You don’t need to run in gangs or use drugs, believe in God and yourself,” Black Water reassures the students.
The Rodeo Club is offered to youth starting as young as six-years-old and provides the chance to explore things like horses and rodeo in an inclusive environment. Youth members learn about horse behaviour, tack and riding techniques, which are aligned with equine-assisted therapy where horses are used to promote physical and mental health.
Sports convey athleticism at its best on the ice, court and field. At times, it can also reward and excuse the worst in social behavior. There are youth that can use sports to learn how to build social competence, bonding and the skills needed in everyday life. In regards to youth in need of mentoring, sports could be the start of a lifelong cultivation that demonstrates hard hits come with hard lessons and great accomplishments. Sports can teach that sometimes in order to win, you have to lose, but the most important lesson is that you tried and in doing so, you lived. And maybe even kick some ass while doing it.