Volunteers from the city’s indigenous community are resurrecting a group that once patrolled Winnipeg streets.
“The murder of Tina Fontaine this past summer was really the catalyst for this,” said James Favel, chair of the Dufferin Residents Association and one of those reconstituting the Bear Clan Patrol.
In the early 1990s, the Bear Clan Patrol had more than 200 members, whose goal was to prevent crime and help vulnerable people. Volunteers would work from dusk to dawn in teams, walking, driving or cycling through inner-city neighbourhoods.
Members of the Bear Clan were involved in everything from preventing break-ins, stopping fights and getting intoxicated people get home safely, to keeping an eye on those in the sex trade.
Founded by workers at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in the city’s North End, the original Bear Clan Patrol operated for several years before the group faded away.
Although the new Bear Clan has nearly 400 likes on its Facebook group, Favel says actual patrols won’t begin until the summer.
“We’re still working out a vetting process for volunteers. We can’t just let anyone go out on the streets without some sort of screening,” he said.
Still, Favel says the group already has a board and the blessing of the Bear Clan’s original founders. They’ve even had a small number of jackets made that can be worn when volunteers begin making rounds.
The original group was modelled after a similar initiative called the AIM (American Indian Movement) Patrol that operated in Minnesota beginning in the late 1960s.
The Bear Clan Patrol was also inspired by the traditional clan system of the Ojibway and Cree. People who were born into the bear clan were often seen as protectors of their communities.