Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Resurrect Bear Clan Patrol

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FONESSA Bruyere, 17, was murdered. Her body was dumped in a field on the outskirts of the city. Police said she was an exploited youth involved in the sex trade.

It's a loss that shouldn't go without action.

Aboriginal women representing four groups -- Mothers of Red Nations, Ka Ni Kanichihk, Southern Chiefs Organization and Sisters in Spirit -- took action last week. They publicly called on governments to create a Manitoba-based task force to deal specifically with murdered and missing women.

It's a reasonable demand governments would be wise to implement. Task forces in British Columbia and Alberta were formed in reaction to their province's increases in murdered women.

Another option that's been around for a few years is creating a red-light district for sex trade workers. A red-light district means an industry that's been around forever can be regulated. Many believe women in the sex trade will then less likely become victims of violence.

Maybe it's time to put this idea into action; they have them in other countries. But the creation of a red-light district will fall by the wayside again unless there's enough societal and political will over here to push it into existence.

Then there's community action. Let's resurrect the Bear Clan Patrol.

The Bear Clan Patrol was a volunteer group that began the early '90s in Winnipeg's North End. It was co-founded by two Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre workers -- Larry Morrissette and David Blacksmith.

The idea was to re-ignite part of a traditional clan system that kept social order among the Ojibway people and other nations. It was the Bear Clan people who were in charge of their communities' safety.

The modern day Bear Clan Patrol worked in the North End and Point Douglas. In it's heyday there were about 200 volunteers. 'Wolverine' was one of them.

"Keeping watch, that's what we were trying to bring back," said Wolverine. "Some had vehicles, some had bikes, some were on foot. We tried to keep the peace in the North end."

Volunteers patrolled the community on weekends -- from evening until dawn.

They attended to whatever came up, from house fires to break and enters, and fights. Sometimes they caught car thieves and held them until police arrived. They tried not to step on any toes -- whether it was the cops or gangs.

Wolverine said back then all they had to worry about as far as weapons was the odd knife.

The Bear Clan helped vulnerable people. They would pick up intoxicated people and take them home. They kept records of the make, colour, licence plate number and physical description of 'johns.'

The group had a strong female element. A board of women had to approve of male volunteers. As well, the women volunteers built relationships with "working girls." They kept track of them, and encouraged them to leave the sex trade.

The Bear Clan Patrol wasn't made up of strictly aboriginal people either.

"We were a mixed breed," said Wolverine. "Italian, Mexican, all kinds of people. It was a multicultural thing, where everybody came to help each other out."

Eventually the Bear Clan evolved into a security business called First Peoples' Security. With the volunteer aspect gone, the company went out of business.

Now in his 50s, I asked Wolverine if he was willing to help resurrect Bear Clan, or something like it. He agreed quickly.

The Bear Clan's been gone too long.

Our community needs to take a proactive role in keeping our people safe. The Bear Clan needs volunteers who live here, work here and people who care. We need to do this so kids like Fonessa don't go missing anymore.

If you'd like to volunteer send me an e-mail.

colleen.simard@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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