Just the mention of the word “gang” elicits strong reactions from the people of Eeyou Istchee. Most people rightly feel that gangs are hurtful, destructive and a huge strain on the community.

All you have to do is take a drive around Wemindji to see the evidence of the youth gangs composed of kids aged 10 to 16. “NWA,” which stands for Natives With Attitude, is spray-painted on at least a dozen or more houses of innocent, nongang-related residents. These are people with families who are working hard to get by.

The irony is that this “attitude” is not “Native” at all. It is an import from the “gangsta” culture created by the huge media corporations of the United States. NWA, in fact, was originally “Niggas With Attitude,” which was seen by young African Americans as a way to take back the derogatory word “nigger” and make it their own.

Another gang, the Cree Outlaws, bandy about around town, unfazed at the destruction and hurt they are causing the community. They walk with a swagger because they know that for the most part, nothing will be done to them.

Go to Sam’s Cafe and you can witness for yourself the way older kids bully younger children for money and favours.

Their attitude is not welcome in the community and people like Shannon Atsynia is doing her best to do something about it. She was elected Youth Chief at the beginning of the year and one of her priorities is the eradication of these criminal groups.

Earlier this year a group of community members got together and painted over the gang signs. The cleanup lasted only a couple months. Now the tags are back.

A task force was formed to combat gangs and bullying. It was made up of teachers, police and parents but is now inactive, according to Atsynia. She is continuing the fight with little support.

Atsynia’s home is currently the only place in the community qualified as a “safe house” under Wemindji’s fledgling neighborhood watch program. In other words, if a kid is getting beat up or is in trouble, they can find shelter at her house, which could be a long walk if it is all the way across town, especially at four in the morning.

More people need to get into the act and acquire the tools necessary to qualify their homes as a safe house. It doesn’t take long and it is not hard and you could save someone from getting beat up or killed.

How can a community of less than 2,000 people have a gang problem? It is absurd and scary at the same time.

Other places like Mistissini and Whapmagoostui have the Bloods and the Crips. They are dealing with strikingly similar problems of bullying, assault and in some extreme cases, rape.

If these trends continue, those 12-year-old gang members could turn into 22-year-old drug dealers with a penchant for beating their girlfriends and harming other innocent community members.

It has to stop.

It is time for people to stand up to these cretins. Report any acts of vandalism to the police. If they don’t do anything about it, call your Chief or the Grand Council. If nothing gets done from there, call the Nation.

The only way to address this problem is to face it head on and with your help we can raise awareness and hopefully embarrass enough people into action.

Maybe then the parents of these kids will do their part and stay home more often or drink less or start to play the important part of being a role model in their kids’ lives.

We aren’t saying that every parent of a gang member is at fault; some just slip through the cracks. But when you give a kid an inch, they tend to take a mile and somewhere, somehow, it has to be dealt with using swift and just means to ensure the safety of all community members and the generations to come.