Who are the Crazy Indians Brotherhood?
You may have seen them with their biker like cuts, the proud black and white patch, meticulously sewn on leather vests. They may have caught your eye at a pow-wow. You might have noticed them marching protectively on truth and reconciliation walks or with drums and song at First Nation remembrance ceremonies. Perhaps you saw them handing out blankets or clothing to the homeless or feeding the disenfranchised street people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. You may have been struck by their formidable physical presence, their camaraderie and their actions. And you may have wondered who they were and what they were doing.
They are the good guys. And they are doing what must be done, both to help the people and to save their culture. They are the caretakers of an almost forgotten past.
These men are warriors. They are called to help the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the hurting, and the abused. And this is exactly what they do.
“The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, for they are the future of humanity.” -Sitting Bull
The Crazy Indians Brotherhood (CIB) is an international non-profit organization. They consist of mainly First Nations members and follow the spiritual guidelines of their people. Formed in 2007, in M.B., they now have chapters in five provinces and six states, with thousands of members and supporters. To the uninitiated, they may appear to be a motorcycle club. They are not. Organizationally, they are structured much like many motorcycle clubs. However, having a bike is not a prerequisite for being a CIB member. Nor is it the focus of their organization. Instead, their focus is a dedication to service work. They aim to educate, to give hope within communities where hope does not exist. They strive to promote a clean and sober lifestyle and a reverence to the wisdom of their ancestors. They want to ensure that the culture of their people is not lost, or forgotten. And there is a strong familial bond within their ranks. A connection forged on loyalty, trust and respect.
The name ‘Crazy Indians’ derives from a negative stereotype, attached to indigenous people by some racist colonials. But instead of reacting in anger, the CIB adopted the slur, as a constant reminder of what they are up against … they took an insult and turned it into a badge of honour. After generations of degradation, they recognize the difficult, yet necessary task of reversing a negative stereotype, not only in the minds of the oppressors but more importantly, within their victims.As award winning indigenous author, the late Richard Wagamese, so succinctly put it, “When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human.”
The Crazy Indians Brotherhood is on a mission to overturn these misconceptions. Tse Tsm Lek is the President of the CIB Stolo chapter in B.C. and he is committed to speaking the truth and returning pride to his community. His name, given to him at birth, means ‘Helper of the people’, which seems prophetic in hindsight. His English name is Henry James, though he also wears the name of his grandfather, Gotchie, which translates to ‘Big man.’ This also suits him well. Gotchie is of the Sturgeon people, part of the Salish Nation and lives on the Scowlitz reserve. Though he has had a violent past, he is a peaceful man now, a loving father, husband and friend. He has also operated heavy equipment, full time on the railroad, for over a decade.
“The time for healing is long overdue. We are out here on the streets, on the reserves, at the events and on the marches. We are raising awareness and offering hope to those without it. A lot of our people have fallen. They are hurting and too many turned to drugs and alcohol to ease their pain. They have forgotten their worth. We are out here reminding them of it. We are out here feeding them, clothing them and helping them to stand back up. We are teaching, through words and actions, how to live again. If you are in need, and you ask for my help, I’ll be there. Count on it,” he explains.
Gotchie’s wife Tanya, is of the Wet’suwet’en nation in northern B.C. She is a wise and generous woman, who walks a very spiritual path. These are some of her thoughts on the CIB and her husband’s part in it.
Healing the trauma
“Trauma has hit us all. We were not even allowed to ceremony for a hundred years. The government made our sacred rituals illegal. They didn’t begin to gradually reverse these laws until the late 1950’s and ‘60’s. With the Indian Act and residential schools they further cancelled our culture, attempting to stamp it out completely. But we remember.
“I am connected to Spirit and I was sick of living in a system of lies. I am sick of losing family, friends, and sisters. I am tired of the hatred thrown at us.
“Even so, I was apprehensive at first when Gotchie transitioned into the Brotherhood. I was afraid for him when he put on the patch. Afraid that he would be even more visible to those that wanted to hurt us. But he is so strong and I feel such pride for him and the good he does.
“The growth I see in these once wounded men is inspiring. I am watching them rise up and heal, by helping to heal others. The CIB is encouraging our youth to be better. They encourage them to recognize their own worth and to embrace the connection we have with our ancestors.
“Our daughter, Jesi, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. She is confined to a wheelchair and her life is not an easy one. But she has her own cut (Crazy Indians Supporter leather vest) that she wears constantly. When she sees her father in his vest, with his brothers at events … they are like gods to her. She belongs and she knows it.
“I came from a dark and violent life and with Jesi, I gave birth to light. I thank Spirit for giving her to us. And we thank Spirit for the Brotherhood,” said Tanya.
While talking with TseTsm Lek, I asked him what first drew him to the Crazy Indians Brotherhood. This is what he told me.,
“Our people are hurting. Many have lost their way. We carry a lot of grief and we have buried far too many from suicide, drugs and violence. This has gone on for generations, since the coming of the Europeans and was made worse by the residential schools. Our people never knew child abuse before the schools. The nuns and priests taught that first hand to our children. It damaged them and when they returned to their families, they were not the same. Full of shame and fear, many turned to alcohol to ease the pain and this too got passed on.
TseTsm Lek explained that the CIB helped him to heal from his pain and help him be a service to his community.
“When I got clean and sober three years ago, I knew that I wanted to be a service to my people. I began to once again listen to the elders and I began my spiritual journey. When I was introduced to the Crazy Indians Brotherhood, I could see that they believed what I believe, and I knew that I wanted to be a part.
He sees a resurgence in Indigenous culture as key to reconciliation.
“We recognize that to ever reach reconciliation, we need to face the truth. We have to regain our culture and our language, the old ways. It will take time and it will take hard work, pain and sacrifice. We know that it will not be easy. But we are willing and we are strong and we will not surrender. This is a war that we must win.”
The path toward reconciliation
When Pierre Poilievre ranted in 2008 that, “Canada’s Aboriginals need to learn the value of hard work more than they need compensation for abuse suffered in Residential Schools,” he was dog whistling to a hate filled, angry group of people that still exist within our society. In reading Mr. Poilievre’s statement, you can easily see that not only does he perpetuate the false narrative of the Indigenous being lazy but he also shows a callous disregard for thousands of murdered and abused children. However, he not only inflames the mob with this rhetoric. These words are akin to cruelly throwing salt on the open wounds of generational trauma. These words destroy trust, cause division and can severely hinder the hope for truth and reconciliation. How will healing occur when these lies have been spouted as truths by elected lawmakers within the House of Commons?
In 2008, the newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada began an inquiry into the abuse suffered by residential school survivors. In its 2015 findings, there were over 90 calls to action, with 45 recommendations falling under federal jurisdiction. Many critics feel that the Commission’s recommendations were not far reaching enough and there were accusations that the Commission itself, had not been allowed to fully investigate both government and church records.
When the unmarked graves of over 200 children were found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, a new investigation was initiated. As of April 2022, only 15 of the 139 residential school sites have been searched, leaving 124 school sites to be investigated. On May 24, 2022, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s Memorial Register confirmed the names of 4,130 children who died while at Indian Residential Schools, though there are likely many more who have not been identified or found. It is estimated that the actual number will exceed 6,000 and possibly reaching as high as 12,000. Though the last residential school in Canada closed in 1996, the residual fallout continues to poison the survivors and their families.
The whole purpose of these schools was to enact cultural genocide. The system was built to destroy the heritage of a people and it came very close to succeeding. Children were torn from their homes, often by force. They were physical, emotionally and sexually abused on a large scale. They were forced to abandon their language, their customs, their very identity. How could all of the first nations not be affected in a profound manner?
The generational impact of Residential Schools
Karla Joseph has a Bachelors Degree in Social Work, and a Masters degree of Social Work in Indigenous Trauma and Resiliency. As a registered social worker with the BC College of Social Workers, Karla also has an active practice (and presence) in Hope, B.C., and is of the St’atímc Nation. As such, she is well versed in the symptoms and effects of generational trauma and this is how she explained it to me:
“To define generational trauma, I must first define trauma. As Dr. Gabor Mate states, ‘Trauma is not what happens to you, it is what happens inside of you as a result of what happens to you. Trauma is a disconnection from one’s true and authentic self,’” Joseph said. “Generational trauma then is the passing down of disconnection from those who did not heal (reconnect) from their traumatic experiences from one generation to the next. In the simplest terms, connection is the correction to trauma.
Joseph explained the impact that this generational trauma has had on individuals in the Indigenous community.
“Residential Schools did a number on our peoples’ ability to process emotion. Our Survivors were trained to suppress their feelings, especially the more “negative” ones to keep themselves safer,” Joseph said. “Add that to the loss of culture and relationship within communities and you end up with many people that don’t have the teachings our ancestors share about death, dying and loss. Once we understand that the knee-jerk reaction to suppress and/or avoid our emotions is a result of intergenerational trauma and epigenetics and that it can be unlearned, we develop a sense of hope that things can be different.
Joseph explained how the CIB provides the space necessary for its members to heal.
“The Crazy Indians Brotherhood provides so much of what is necessary to heal from the historical and not-so-historical trauma experienced by the Indigenous people of this place called Canada,” she said. “Not only are they connected in trusting relationships with each other as members, but also through those relationships they are connected to culture and their surrounding communities. It gives the members a sense of purpose, belonging, and acceptance; three things that were stripped from our Indian Residential School Survivors.”
Robert Nabbes or Bos, as he’s known, has been a member of the brotherhood since 2014. He was President of the Pas chapter in M.B., but recently has been elevated to International Vice President. Being a master craftsman and artist, he embraces the old ways of his ancestors and teaches those ways to others. He and his daughter operate an art gallery and as the soup kitchen in the Pas is closed on weekends, every Sunday they make sandwiches and open their back door to the hungry.
Helping youth and the community
“We run ‘Feed the People’ events every week and have been doing so for years. We travel to Winnipeg, Brandon and in the Pas. We bring food, water, coffee and socks, a much requested item,” said Bos. “Now that the weather is changing, the brotherhood has been collecting donated blankets, coats, mitts … whatever we can get to pass out to the homeless and the needy. When we arrive, and they see our patches, their joy overshadows their situation. We will sit and talk with them and hear their stories, their truths and we will tell them ours. We share our knowledge and our experiences and hopefully, we have given them some hope … some strength. I have purpose now. This is what the brotherhood has given me. We help people. And in doing so, it helps me. I have my own troubles, but helping others gives me the strength to carry on.”
The Crazy Indians Brotherhood is proud of their Indigenous heritage. The members embrace the culture of their ancestors and the teachings of their people and are struggling to keep all of it from being lost.
As Garrett “Pitbull” Dan, Captain of the STOLO chapter in Mission, B.C., told me, “the elders instruct me that it is the law to teach others what we know of our customs, of our art, of our language. We have a noble history and we cannot simply hold onto that history. We are obligated to pass it along. Even if you only know ten words in our language, you must teach those ten words.
Dan explained how the CIB helps youth work towards a better future.
“The future holds a lot of change. We are guiding our youth and helping them towards a positive future. I see the good in a lot of people and I want them to succeed,” he said. “They just need a hand. The people need to know that they are not alone, that they share a unique culture. The Brotherhood has given me the chance to do this on a larger scale and I am grateful.”
When I talked with Garett Dan, I knew that he was a good man. I also knew that he was a man who was cloaked with the wisdom of his ancestors. It was easy to see that he wore that cloak with both pride and humility. I have since learned that the bloodline of Sitting Bull runs through his veins. Garett’s traditional name from birth is Emxucha which means ‘the Protector ‘and the name suits him well.
As I have gotten to know members of the Crazy Indians Brotherhood and become more familiar with the work they do, I must admit I am impressed. In an age when ‘thoughts and prayers’ are often strewn about generously, serious actions are sadly absent. Not so with the Crazy Indians Brotherhood. To the CIB, truth, in word and in action, is one of the foundations of their Brotherhood. Words do not fill bellies, actions do.
My wife describes the CIB members as saints. And like the saints, many of them have had a hard and troubled past. But these men are warriors. Though they are physically intimidating at first glance, they are actually the helpers. They lend their strength, in body and spirit, to those in need. These men are the protectors to a people who are struggling to regain their identity and their way of life. They are clean and sober and they walk the path towards redemption, bringing as many of the people with them as they can.
With what must seem like the weight of the world on their shoulders, the Crazy Indians Brotherhood continues with their work. When the town of Lytton, B.C. burned to the ground, they loaded up five semi-trucks with donated clothes, food, water and other essentials and worked for days, bringing hope to people who had lost everything. They hold regular ‘Feed the people’ events, trying to make sure that no one goes hungry. CIB members accompany recovering alcoholic/addicts to meetings and support them through recovery. The Brotherhood assists the grief stricken, the depressed and the traumatized, as well as their families, in finding counselling and support groups. They also organize special events for youth and families, do fundraising and co-ordinate large scale donation efforts. They are building community and keeping it safe.
Every June, in Mission, B.C., there is an annual walk of remembrance for the children who suffered and died while attending St. Mary’s residential school. This year, the walk was attended by a few hundred people, drumming and singing prayer songs, while marching the kilometre and a half between the original school site and its last incarnation. The participants were peaceful and orderly, they did not stop traffic or cause a disturbance. Most people watching the march were supportive, though there were shouts of “get over it” and racial slurs, from some men gathered around a parked pickup truck. These were ignored. Then one motorist, whether angry or impatient or incompetent, drove a vehicle into the crowd. He struck one person, caused many to scatter and fall, including women and children, and drove off. The CIB was there, attending the injured, calming people down and as peacekeepers, kept the situation from erupting into violence. They made sure that the walk was completed in solemnity; safely and protected.
Like all within the First Nations, these men have had to deal with prejudice, hatred and unwarranted violence. There was a time when they may have, and often did, return these acts in kind. For them, that time is past. They walk a kinder and gentler road these days.
“There is no longer a place in my heart for hate. Hatred and anger only cause pain and there is already too much suffering in the world.” Tse Tsm Lek told me. ”My brothers and I are called to a higher purpose and we are going to help the people: one meal, one song, one prayer, one march, one person at a time.”
The famous liberty and human rights advocate, Nez Perce leader, Chief Joseph, said in, 1879, “We live. We die. And like the grass and trees, we renew ourselves from the soft earth of the grave. Stones crumble and decay, faiths grow old and they are forgotten, but new beliefs are born. The faith of the villages is dust now… but it will grow again… like the trees.”
Let us hope that he is correct. And let us hope after so many years, that with the work of the Crazy Indians Brotherhood and other like-minded people: That the time is now.
Hu Huy ch q’u
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