MINNEAPOLIS — From the plush leather interior of a black Cadillac Escalade, Reuben Crow Feather looked out to the streets and pointed to a corner lit only by the red, yellow and green glow of a changing stoplight overhead and a nearby fast-food sign.
“When I was on the block here in Minneapolis, I would keep a .44 Desert Eagle with one in the chamber with the safety on,” he said. “I wouldn’t have to slide it. All I’d have to do is flip the switch and rock. It was a cannon.”
Crow Feather, a Dakota tribal member, is a big guy. Barrel chested with veiny arms, two long braids and tinted glasses, he regularly displays a toothy grin when talking and has a habit of raising his voice to a threatening decibel when engaged in a monologue.
Convicted of drug trafficking in 2008 and identified by law enforcement as a leader of the Minneapolis-based gang Native Mob — a charge he denies — he is currently on parole and says he makes most of his money dancing and singing professionally at powwows across the nation. He is also preparing for a new step in his life: political activism.
At 38, Crow Feather is poised to become a leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM), an organization that was born on the streets of Minneapolis in the 1960s to protect civil rights and later become an internationally infamous militant Indian organization that took on the federal government.
“We’re the equivalent of the Black Panthers,” said Crow Feather. “But we’re culturally based.”
His ascent to a leadership role in the organization raises questions about how a new generation of AIM leaders will keep the nearly 50-year-old organization alive and relevant for a generation of Native Americans that now fight their battles in court, not through protest or 1960s-style actions. It also raises questions about whether AIM can transcend its role as one of the most polarizing forces in Indian Country politics and whether its new leaders can get beyond their own sordid pasts.
“I’m not a Native Mob chief,” said Crow Feather. “I’m a chief. That’s what I am, and the people will say it — I’m a leader.”
*This is the third story in a five-part series on Native American gangs.