Kenora is now home to a fully funded Bear Clan Patrol, following a provincial funding announcement. The group has received $800,000 from the province, with an additional $400,000 from the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB), to support a one-year Kenora Bear Clan Patrol pilot project. The Indigenous-led Kenora Bear Clan Patrol will monitor city streets and public spaces 24 hours, 7 days a week, connecting at-risk community members to support. The group is being modelled off the Winnipeg Bear Clan Patrol, which was launched in 1992. It went on a hiatus after several years, but re-emerged in 2015.
Kenora’s Bear Clan will be the first fully funded chapter in Canada, with a paid staff of 12 employees, according to CTV news. This new chapter will replace a previously formed volunteer group, which was created in honour of 16-year-old Delaine Copenance, after her tragic death in 2016. Fort Frances has had an active volunteer chapter for the past three years, led by James Eastman. It is fully dependent on volunteers and donations from the community.
This community-led approach will ensure that at-risk individuals are supported at the first point of contact by patrol members with shared social and historical contexts who can provide supports in ways that are respectful and cognizant of their culture and beliefs. According to the Winnipeg Bear Clan Patrol website, the group provides security to the city’s First nations community, in a non-violent, non-judgemental way. They promote conflict resolution, mobile witnessing and crime prevention, provide a visible presence, and early response to situations which arise, and offer community members in need of support with rides, escorts and referrals.
The Kenora Bear Clan Patrol began operation on Friday. Provincial funding was assembled from the Office of the Solicitor General, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.
“Today’s investment is a direct response to the on-going crisis in Kenora’s downtown,” said Greg Rickford, MPP for Kenora-Rainy River, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, Minister of Indigenous Affairs. “Together, my government, the KDSB and the Kenora Chiefs Advisory has taken action to deliver a community-led, culturally-appropriate solution that respects our community and those in need of support.”
The initiative is receiving praise and support from local First Nations leaders, including Francis Kavanaugh, Ogichidaa, Grand Council Treaty #3
“We are happy to see support for the Bear Clan Patrol pilot project in Kenora. COVID-19 has pushed to the breaking point all the social issues facing our people such as homelessness, mental health and addictions issues, and lack of employment opportunities,” said Kavanaugh. “It is our hope that indigenous-led projects such as this can be positive steps forward towards addressing these growing concerns.”
“The Bear Clan Patrol is a positive way to protect vulnerable members of society and alleviate some of the struggles faced by disadvantaged people, said Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox, Nishnawbe Aski Nation. “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated social issues that many people in Kenora are facing, and this project is a promising step towards helping the city’s vulnerable community members. We look forward to monitoring their success and will advocate for similar initiatives to be implemented across the region.”
If successful, the pilot project could be extended to other regions where a culturally-sensitive and appropriate response model is also needed to assist Ontario’s most-vulnerable populations.
“As a result of physical distancing and isolation measures, the COVID-19 situation has exacerbated mental health and addiction challenges for Kenora’s most-vulnerable population — creating an increased need for services and assistance,” said Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General. “By partnering with the Bear Clan Patrol, our government is supporting the community as a whole to address challenges, while also allowing the OPP to focus their time and resources on community safety issues.”
“The Kenora District Services Board is honoured to be a partner in developing the Bear Clan Patrol within Kenora,” said Henry Wall, Chief Administration Officer at the Kenora District Services Board. “The KDSB is pleased to provide $400,000 in funding towards such a critical initiative. This has only been possible due to our Board and Municipalities’ collective vision in supporting each other in a time of need.”
“The Ontario Provincial Police welcomes the Bear Clan Patrol Project as a way to provide culturally-sensitive support during situations involving vulnerable individuals who may be experiencing a mental health or addiction related crisis,” said OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique. “Collaboration such as this between police and communities contributes greatly to community safety and wellbeing.”
“As Attorney General I’m committed to advancing new and innovative ways of keeping people safe in northern and remote communities,” said Attorney General Doug Downey. “Our government’s investment in the Kenora Bear Clan Patrol Project will help expand community-led public safety solutions and reduce the cycle of offending – goals shared by our Kenora Justice Centre pilot project.”