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The Story of Danny Wolfe, Murdered Founder of the Prairies’ Notorious Indian Posse Gang

A new book attempts to look beyond the violence and into a gang leader's contradictory life.
Photo via RCMP.

Danny Wolfe was only 12 years old when he co-founded the Indian Posse with his brother Richard in 1988.

In the following years and decades, the Winnipeg-based street gang became one of the most feared in the country, swiftly spreading across the Prairies and plaguing both urban and rural communities with violence as membership spiked and wars with other gangs intensified. Incarceration completely failed to isolate the problem (and very likely exacerbated it).


Wolfe was killed in prison in 2010 at the age of 33. Yet his story and influence lingers. For some, he's remembered as a brutal and merciless figure who directly and indirectly caused the deaths of many. He was serving a life sentence for the murder of two people (and the attempted murder of three) at the time he died.

For others, Wolfe was a complicated and tragic byproduct of extreme poverty, racism, and despair—someone who resorted to extreme violence as a means to protect himself, his family, and his culture.

Joe Friesen, a reporter at the Globe and Mail, has explored such contradictions in his new book, The Ballad of Danny Wolfe. It's a work that exhibits intricate research and writing, leaving the reader not only with a vivid portrayal of the anti-hero but a window into the failures of the prison system, the lingering effects of residential schools, and the ramifications of Canada's refusal to fulfill obligations to Indigenous peoples.

VICE Canada spoke to Friesen about the project and the deeply contradictory life of Danny Wolfe.

VICE: How did this project begin?
Joe Friesen: It started for me with the prison break back in 2008. Before then, I had never heard of Danny Wolfe. I knew about the Indian Posse, [but] after the prison break, I had to know about who this person was and was totally fascinated with how he'd come up with this plan to get out of the jail. I wrote to him after he was caught. I'd written lots of letters like that before but had never got any responses.


But then he phoned me. I told him I was interested in doing a project on the history of Aboriginal gangs and how they were founded and that I was very curious about his story. And he was immediately like, "Yes, I want to do this, I think this could be a really great project."

Was it Danny's perspective that what had been written about the Indian Posse and his upbringing was not entirely true, or didn't really represent what actually happened?
Yeah, I think that was his sense. It was an interesting thing about both Danny and [his brother] Richard [Wolfe]: even from their earliest days they had a need to explain themselves to the public. They really wanted people to know what the Indian Posse was about. Richard had given those interviews back in the 1990s to the paper where he sort of explained a bit of the gang's ethos and why it existed and why they had founded it. That same impulse carried on with Danny, I think. A lot of reporting about crime tends to come from only one side of the story. He wanted to make sure that his voice was also being heard.

Some suggest through the course of the book that there's nothing necessarily cultural about the Indian Posse, that they've hijacked traditional spirituality for crude iconography. There are obviously a lot of complex things happening and the spirituality aspect seemed true for Danny. What's your take?
I think you're right, that for Danny and many other people in the gang, they really believed that the Indian Posse represented something bigger. And the spirituality was part of that. They wanted to reclaim a sense of identity that they felt they had either lost or had been denied to them growing up in these situations, without parents or elders guiding them.


I understand why people say they turned their back on their spirituality. Many of them chose what you'd call a "bad path" in life and their actions are, in many cases, terrible and unforgivable.

But I think Danny truly believed in what he was doing. The spiritual aspect was real for him. Later in the book, he even says, "I was trying to go down that path but I wasn't doing it properly." He wasn't doing it the way his mother had taught him to. And he felt a lot of guilt about that. And that kind of comes out at some points late in the narrative, as things are falling apart for him.

Midway through the book you include a chapter called 'The Colonial Legacy and the Debt of Sacrifice.' There were clearly strands of that sort of commentary throughout the book: there are clear links to residential schools and to institutionalized racism. Why was that important for you to include as opposed to doing what might be considered straight-up reporting?
I think it's absolutely crucial to the story of who Danny Wolfe is and where the Indian Posse came from. You see what happens through the generations. They're in residential schools, the alcoholism sets in for Danny's grandfather, his mother is raised in residential schools and undergoes some terrible abuse and, although she doesn't like to get into that story, it had certainly marked her forever.

She becomes a mother very young, and that's the world that Danny and Richard and born into. They really feel they fended for themselves as kids, out alone on the streets of Winnipeg stealing food, stealing blankets from clotheslines, sleeping out in play structures and apartment building stairwells and stuff like that. Obviously, the residential schools had a huge impact on them.

The judge who delivered the final verdict concluded that Danny had a "callous disregard for human life." Yet there were moments of pretty intense intimacy captured in the book: the moment when he cries on the phone with his mom, and conversations about his son. How do you personally reconcile these things?
It really explains the complicated nature of Danny. He were both of those things at the same time. He could show a callous disregard for human life, and he did on more than one occasion. And at the same time, he was someone who was extremely charismatic, that people felt drawn to, that people loved. He, in turn, really loved those that he loved, particularly his kids and his family. And this family that he created: the members of the gang.

Someone said at one point that there was almost a switch that he could turn—he could get a very cold look in his eyes, [which] was a sign that he was going into a different persona. I think both of them existed at the same time in Danny.

How did you respond to his death when you found out about it?
It was both a surprise and not a surprise. He was living on that knife's edge that is the gang life: you never know what's going to happen from one day to the next. I was surprised in the sense that you never expect anyone to pass away so suddenly like that. On the other hand, as soon as I heard that someone had been killed in Prince Albert my first thought was that it would be Danny. And it turned out to be true. That was the life he led. And he knew that more than anyone. In later bits of the book you can probably see this: he's starting to see foresee his own death even before it happened. He knows what he's facing.

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