Winnipeg’s Indigenous Bear Clan Patrol Protects the Vulnerable

drug parephenalia scattered on a sidewalk, black and white photo with splashes of red
Photo by Mr. Theklan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

After the body of 14-year-old Tina Fontaine was found in Winnipeg’s Red River in 2014, members of the community took action. At Vice, Geraldine Malone reports on the Bear Clan Patrol, a grassroots group that formed in Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood to walk the streets at night. Nearly three years later, over 530 volunteers act as “boots on the ground,” focusing on harm reduction by handing out condoms, offering rides, diffusing violent confrontations, preventing opioid overdoses by administering naloxone, and protecting the vulnerable to “get that village feel back,” as co-founder James Favel says. They’re “Trying to inspire people to care more about one another.”

Gathering in the small centre before patrol all of the volunteers grab their necessary gear: the bright yellow vests, plastic gloves and containers to store used needles they find on the street. There’s also bags of apples this night. A volunteer named Bob bought them and everyone fills their pockets with the fruit, a hot commodity on the streets, especially with kids. Sometimes they also have candy to hand out, the volunteers laugh that it’s a favorite of the kids.

One kid runs up with an envelope and whispers to a volunteer, “there are needles inside.” It’s taken some time for the Bear Clan to build this kind of trust. Favel says at first when they started people assumed it would be like most social efforts in this neighborhood—here one day and then gone the next. Good intentions with little follow through is something they know all too well.

Last fall they were in this same housing complex when a woman came outside screaming, Favel says. Two people had been drinking and got into a fight that escalated quickly when one of them brought out a machete. A guy had his fingers almost completely chopped off.

The Bear Clan Patrol have first-aid training and responded quickly, treating the severed fingers and calling for paramedics. It was because of that response the guy ended up keeping mobile fingers, Favel says.

Last November, many of the Bear Clan Patrol members were trained to administer naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug. Members carry the naloxone kits on patrol but they also work with paramedics if they come across someone who may be overdosing.

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