The Seventh Fire and Surviving Drugs and Gangs On Native Reservations

Written by Andre Cramblit.

- Indian Country Today

I recently watched a documentary about gangs, drugs, hopelessness and the resulting social problems on the White Earth Rez called the Seventh Fire. It is streamable on NetFlix and Amazon and available on iTunes as well.


The short film could be about most reservations across the country. It focuses on the generations of gangs and the resulting impacts on the Indian community. To say it is darkly haunting and more than a bit depressing is an understatement. Doesn’t sound like much of a thumbs up review, but I did like it. I liked that it made me look at an issue that is confronting many Native communities around the country without a filter of “everything will work out in the end.” It succeeds as a challenge to smashing the crap outta the drugs and their distributors that are deviling our people.

The documentary is about an “OG” who is on his last weekend of freedom before reporting to prison for the fifth time. It is interlaced with a story about how this gang leader is “mentoring” a protégé into becoming a better drug dealer than he is. He wants him to be more successful than he was by selling drugs but not getting sent to prison as often. It is a tough no holds barred look into the mirror that many reservations would rather look away from.

Sure our tribal councils talk about getting drugs out of our communities, and they have taken action in many cases to make reservations unfriendly to gangs and drug dealers. What is not happening enough is action on the proactive side of things. We need to have the services, programs and opportunities that promote positive development of our young people.

Putting an Elder together with a young person is a traditional learning method that has been overlooked in our modern school system. We need to reconnect these generations so they can learn from one another. Going back to a traditional model of education can make headway in impacting poverty, developing life skills and finding a true mentor to look up to.

We need to support language programs that places these groups as Master/Apprentice language teams. Tribes should reprioritize funding so they can pay these groups to simply spend time together teaching and learning the language. This is a model that was developed here in California through the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (AICLS) program.

Our youth need to be given the tools that they need to build their future.

What ever happened to those personal finance skills classes I was required to take in high school. Teens these days don’t even know what it takes to open a bank account. No tribe should ever give out a per capita check before they pay for a financial planner to come and do some training with their membership. First Nations Development Corporation has developed some top notch curriculum on building financial literacy for Native American communities. You could write an Administration for Native Americans (ANA) Social and Economic Development (SEDs) grant to bring these types of trainings into your community. That old maxim “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” has never rang truer when juxtaposed to the lack of planning that goes along with simply cranking out per capita checks.

We need to break the cycle of poverty that comes with teen pregnancy. Statistics show that teenagers that get pregnant drop out of school at a higher rate than their peers. These young parents end up with either low paying jobs or no employment. They then have to rely on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other social services to provide the bare necessities of life. Every tribal clinic should be giving out free condoms by the dozen and educating teenagers about sexually transmitted diseases and what it takes to be a good parent.

Our young people need to be taught the job skills that will help them be successful in the world of work. Not things like mastering the idiosyncrasies of Microsoft Office nor being the master of upselling (“would you like fries with that”?) What employers really want in their workers are 5 basic skills 1) Show up every day, 2) Be on time, 3) Be ready for work, 4) Be willing to learn, and 5) Maintain a good attitude. Plain, basic and eminently doable.

Many American Indian reservations are reeling from the effects of drugs, poverty and the despair they bring. We need to rise up and take back our communities. We owe it to the generations that went before us that worked to help us grow into solid healthy adults.

Just my two dentalia’s worth.