'It's kind of like redemption,' Crazy Indians Brotherhood chapter forms in Saskatoon
They look like gang members, but the purpose of the Crazy Indians Brotherhood is to help people.
"We're going to do lots for the community and show these younger people what it is to grow up here in Saskatoon and how to be a better man," said Chris Martell, one of the men who is starting up the Saskatoon chapter.
Members of the Brotherhood wear black leather vests with the caricature of a chief on the back.
"We don't just give these away, you have to earn these," he said, in reference to the vests.
Members are "patched-in," a hierarchical system often used by gangs to prove you've earned your spot in the organization. But the similarities between the Brotherhood and organized crime stop there.
"We see ourselves as a modern-day warrior society," he said.
"Crazy Indian: It was such a negative name," Brotherhood member Christopher Merasty said.
"It was a name given to Aboriginal people dated back in the early time like 'you crazy Indian' or 'you crazy drunken Indian.' So now we're using this name to turn it into something positive."
The Brotherhood started in Winnipeg in 2007. There are now chapters extending across Canada and south to places like California and Oklahoma. The Saskatoon chapter is an extension of one already established in Prince Albert.
Membership is not exclusive to Aboriginal people. Many members are fathers, working full-time jobs, but prior to joining the Brotherhood, life was complicated for many who grew up in poverty or have former gang affiliations.
Howard Martell was first introduced to gang-life through his family. His father, a full-patch member of the Manitoba Warrior street gang, took off when Martell was two years-old. His dad spent many years in and out jail.
Howard never felt like he belonged. He gravitated towards crime, and by the age of 16, was a member of the Terror Squad. He wore a bullet proof vest and carried a gun.
"Kind of near the end, I got addicted to Oxycontin," he said. "It was one of the things that ruined my life. It took my family away, and pushed a lot of people away."
I said I wanted to change my life around. In a way, it's kind of like redemption.- Howard Martell
He wanted a different life but it took him two years to get off Oxycontin. Then, his cousin Chris inspired him to join the Brotherhood.
"Once I seen my cousin Chris in his vest, I wanted in. We talked, and I said I wanted to change my life around. In a way, it's kind of like redemption."
The Brotherhood offers camaraderie and a chance for members to help people in their community.
Members are collecting Halloween costumes for kids who can't afford them. They are also organizing a steak night to raise money to purchase Christmas hampers.
Sometimes members will pool together money to buy lunches for people in need. After purchasing loaves of bread, ham, juice boxes, and fruit, they assemble lunches in brown paper bags.
In small groups, they file down 20th St., handing the lunches to people who accept them with a smile.
"They seem pretty shocked when you walk up to them, they don't know what they're getting," Justin Bird said with a laugh. "Other than that, they get a pretty good smile on their face when they realize what they do."
Before the Brotherhood, Bird spent a few months homeless, living under city bridges. Now, being able to help others feels incredibly good for the members.
Even though Howard barely cracked a smile as he slipped a lunch into a person's hands, he was emotional.
"It means a lot to me… We can go to each other for help, you know, hang out, do stuff. It's a brotherhood, you know."