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Members of the Bear Clan Patrol walk in Winnipeg’s North End and assist in searches for the missing. (CBC) People in Smithers, B.C., will soon be strolling the streets with high-viz vests and first aid kits as part of a new volunteer group modelled after the Bear Clan Patrol in Winnipeg.

The goal is to increase the safety and well-being of people in Wet’suwet’en territory, with a focus on harm reduction and community health.

"Our community was inspired by the Bear Clan Patrol quite a while back," said Mel Bazil, a drug and alcohol counsellor at the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society and one of the lead organizers of getting the new patrol up and running.

The Bear Clan Patrol started in Winnipeg in the ’90s and was revived in 2015 after the death of Anishinaabe teen Tina Fontaine. Since then, it’s become a model for community safety patrols by First Nations groups in places like Thunder Bay, Regina and Montreal.

Work to start the volunteer group in Smithers is being supported by an Indigenous harm reduction grant from the First Nations Health Authority . Bazil said the patrol will be organized and led collaboratively between the friendship centre, hereditary leaders and matriarchs. Walkers in the ‘Tears 4 Justice’ complete their journey from Prince Rupert, B.C., to Smithers for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Briar Stewart/CBC) The first patrol will begin in Smithers, with an invitation for neighbouring communities of Witset, Houston and Fort Babine to participate in training opportunities so they, too, can start community patrols.

All four communities are located on or near Highway 16, a route from Prince George to Prince Rupert known as the Highway of Tears because of the high number of women and girls who’ve disappeared or been killed in the area. MMIWG prevention

So while the focus may be on harm reduction, based on the opioid crisis in B.C., the plan for the patrol is to reduce harms that extend beyond substance use: to keep women and girls safe, to provide mental health first aid to people in distress and to keep an eye on how police respond to people in crisis.

The idea is to have volunteers out in the community when other service agencies are closed to provide a whole host of services and interventions.

Natu Bearwold plans to be part of that volunteer group.

She was recently hired to work at the friendship centre as a missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls support worker. She said having a presence in the community after hours could provide a critical link for people in a bad situation who might be feeling alone, or that nobody cares.

"If we can interject early on and provide supports and let people know they are supported by their community and that people do care, then we could possibly be a big factor in prevention of MMIWGs," she said. Plan to come up with own name

Since 2015, Winnipeg’s Bear Clan patrol has grown from a small group to more than 800 people who volunteer their time and in 2017 logged more than 21,000 volunteer hours.

Bazil said it’s inspiring to see how the Bear Clan Patrol is taking ownership over the security and well-being of people in the community.

"We’re just encouraging our own communities here to do the same," he said.

"In the past our warriors would protect people, even from themselves if they had to… Patriarchal systems took our responsibilities from our warriors in the past and put them in the hands of police and military and pretty much denied our involvement in our own security." Mel […]

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