Brandon is mobilizing to start its own version of the popular Bear Clan, a citizen-run patrol group gaining prominence for patrolling Winnipeg’s grittiest streets.
Late last summer, Tammy Hossack thought Brandon could benefit from a similar community mobilization program as numerous sexual assaults were being reported downtown.
She presented the idea to the Bear Clan Patrol in Winnipeg, the Brandon Friendship Centre and the Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council, garnering favourable reactions from each.
And now, a public meeting later this month will gauge community interest.
Hossack, the Aboriginal Head Start co-ordinator for Brandon Friendship Centre, is buoyed by her conversations with James Favel, co-founder of Winnipeg’s revived Bear Clan.
"When I talked to James, he was explaining that we’re not there to call the police on people or prevent things from happening. We’re there as a positive presence in the community. That’s why the community respects them," she said of Winnipeg’s reaction, "because they’re not out there policing. We’re helpers in the community."
Hossack, along with Laura Moar, a colleague at the Brandon Friendship Centre, got a first-hand look at Bear Clan’s purpose when they joined a patrol one evening last November.
"It was very eye-opening," she said, recalling how at least 20 volunteers dispersed, armed with flashlights, toiletries and candy. They carried naloxone kits, an antidote to fentanyl overdoses, just in case.
"We gave out water, we gave out condoms. The children are aware of the Bear Clan; they come out running when the Bear Clan comes by, the children like them," she said.
"To me, it was very respectful of the community. It felt good."
Hossack knows there’s interest for the first public meeting Jan. 19 at the Mahkaday Ginew Memorial Centre at 205 College Ave. The meeting, at 6:30 p.m., will establish the women’s council, the leadership each Bear Clan needs.
Twenty people responded to the first call for volunteers, Hossack said.
Once a women’s council is enacted, funding will be sought, volunteers recruited and training offered. Brandon police, Hossack said, are supportive of their efforts.
Winnipeg’s Bear Clan circulates through three-hour shifts five nights a week, but the Brandon’s group schedule is up for discussion. They must determine where to patrol, though downtown is likely.
Favel has seen Bear Clan patrols start up nationwide since he revived the inaugural Winnipeg group in 2014. There are now locations in approximately 20 communities, including chapters likely in Brandon and Selkirk.
He isn’t surprised about Brandon getting involved.
"They’re suffering over there, there’s been some violent assaults, some weapons, they’re suffering with the same opioid overdoses we’re having," he said.
Winnipeg’s Bear Clan was brought back to find missing individuals, but its mandate has expanded to general community outreach. The organization is involved in high-profile cases, like the search for toddler Chase Martens who disappeared near his home near Austin, and unsolved searches in Winnipeg including Thelma Krull and Kevin Dilk.
In Brandon, people have told Hossack they were wondering when the Wheat City would get its own Bear Clan.
"That shows me there’s interest in the community," Hossack said.
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