Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

From Research to Practice: Bridging the Gaps for Psychologists Working in Indigenous Communities Affected by Gangs

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

From Research to Practice: Bridging the Gaps for Psychologists Working in Indigenous Communities Affected by Gangs

Article excerpt

Young peoples' involvement with gangs has been identified as a growing issue for Indigenous people in Canada (Comack, Deane, Morrissette, & Silver, 2013; Grekul & LaBoucane-Benson, 2008; Nafekh, 2002; Statistics Canada, 2012) and the United States (Hautala, Sittner, & Whitbeck, 2016; Major, Egley, Howell, Mendenhall, & Armstrong, 2004). Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in multiple systems (i.e., child welfare, judicial systems, community probation), and experience a variety of responses to gang issues (Bell & Lim, 2005; Comack et al., 2013; Goodwill & Ishiyama, 2015). Many survivors of gang life report the trajectory of moving from government foster care to provincial or federal corrections (Comack et al., 2013; Goodwill, 2016; Goodwill & Ishiyama, 2015), replicating patterns established by residential schools (Macdonald, 2016). Yet, most Indigenous people will never be involved with criminal activity or gangs (Sinclair & Grekul, 2012). We agree with Comack's (2012) investigations with Indigenous peoples' and their encounters with police and the evidence that Indigenous peoples and communities are watched more intently because of the racist belief that they will ultimately commit crimes. We also support the claims that Indigenous gangs emerged from Canada's distinctively colonial context (Comack et al., 2013; Deane, Bracken, & Morrissette, 2007; Fontaine, 2014; Grekul & LaBoucane-Benson, 2008; Henry, 2013). The challenge for Canadian psychological practice is to identify sound research evidence from the treatment literature as well as the decolonizing literature and respond to the opportunity to develop antiracist equitable practices in health and human services.

Background

Psychologists and allied health practitioners working in correctional, child welfare, on and off-reserve settings require treatment models that allow for coordinated interactions across provincial and federal jurisdictions, especially where Indigenous peoples are overrepresented. Overrepresentation in child welfare has roots in systemic racism linked to funding shortfalls in child welfare and education (Blackstock, 2011; Sinha et al., 2012), and the legacy of residential schools and sixties scoop in Canada (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015). Concerns about street gangs in Canada prompted conservative "tough on crime" imposition of law and order solutions, changes in the definition of street gangs, and harsher prison terms for those deemed to be in "street gangs" (Comack et al., 2013). The cumulative effects of racist and neoliberal governance aggravate the sequelae of colonial brutality while failing to address relational traumas or systemic violence plaguing Indigenous communities (Comack et al., 2013).

The definition of a gang is essential to our investigations, however there is a lack of consensus among academics, policymakers, and law enforcement regarding what constitutes a gang (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). Having a common definition would help policymakers determine the relative effectiveness of various law enforcement and gang prevention programs operating within different jurisdictions. Although we do not disagree with this point, there are problems with research traditions that result in academics, policymakers, and law enforcement ascending into the role of expert when it comes to gazing upon the changing nature of gangs in Indigenous communities in the context of our colonial predicament. There are many promises to be fulfilled by Canada in their part of the treaty relationship, as well as numerous recommendations made by, for instance, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), and Stolen Sisters (Amnesty International, 2004). For the purposes of understanding the research considered in this article, we chose a broad definition for gangs that should be refined by each Indigenous community, urban or rural, on or off reserve. …

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