On his 12th birthday, STR8 UP’s Rodney Nataucappo was hit with more than a dozen charges under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The boy from the Yellow Quill First Nation had been stealing cars and committing break and enters from the time he was 10 years old. His upbringing was marked by crime, drugs and alcohol.
“My life revolved around crime,” Nataucappo told Global News in an interview. “That was my survival.”
He entered the correctional system as an inmate at one point doing a four-year stint in Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert. Sixteen years ago, he recognized he needed help.
Nataucappo met with Father André Poilièvre, who is the founder of STR8 UP, a Saskatoon-based gang intervention and prevention organization. It was the first time Nataucappo said he had someone who would consistently follow through on his promises.
“He respected me and he showed me love,” Nataucappo said.
With Poilièvre’s help, Nataucappo slowly built his life up from “shambles,” to the point where he’ll be three years sober in July. It wasn’t easy, though — he’s been through treatment five times.
Nataucappo is also mending relationships, including those with his children, two of whom live with him.
“I always express where things are at for them and where they were at for me. There’s a big difference,” Nataucappo said.
“They’re not hungry, they’re not starving (and) they have a parent at home.”
He’s also in his first year of studying social work in university.
He gets hands-on experience through his role as a mentor with Prince Albert’s newly established STR8 UP office, which opened earlier this spring.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the team’s activities, the group has started making connections with local agencies and correctional institutions.
STR8 UP project manager Prisca Bravo said the new location is a good fit, as it’s close to the city’s jails for men and women, along with Saskatchewan Penitentiary.
“Hopefully once the pandemic is over, we might even be able to come into the facilities and do some talks,” Bravo said.
As the gateway to northern Saskatchewan, Bravo said the Prince Albert office can also provide services to the province’s north.
The new location shares a building with the West Flat Citizens Group, which provides services including daycare, adult education and housing programs. Executive director Dawn Robins said hopes for a formalized gang intervention service like STR8 UP date back more than a decade.
Now, West Flat Citizens Group can offer another resource in Prince Albert, instead of referring clients elsewhere.
“Reach out. We’re available. If you can’t get to us, we’ll get to you,” Robins said.
Expanding to Prince Albert was a condition of STR8 UP being chosen as one of two community organizations to carry out Saskatchewan’s Gang Violence Reduction Strategy.
STR8 UP and Regina Treaty Status Indian Services are budgeted to receive $4.5 million over four years to carry out the strategy.