Bear Clan, North End street patrol, earns kudos after Cooper Nemeth search, smudge
A North End community group is gaining wide support online for its efforts to help find 17-year-old Cooper Nemeth, whose body was found last weekend. A 22-year-old man has been charged with second-degree murder.
- Hundreds honour slain teen Cooper Nemeth at smudging ceremony
- Nicholas Bell-Wright, 22, arrested in Cooper Nemeth death
The street patrol group called the Bear Clan spent countless hours searching for Nemeth and in the end, honoured him in a smudge ceremony.
People on the group's Facebook page are saying the patrol's actions have done more to bridge the divide between the two communities than forums, summits or reports.
Positive comments pour in
Since the weekend, views of the Bear Clan's Facebook page have exploded from just under 20,000 to over 160,000.
Here is a sample of some of the comments:
Annalee Deighton: "As a long time citizen of Winnipeg it has done my heart and soul so much good to see a group of people such as yourselves do so much for our community and especially the Nemeth family. Your unconditional love and compassion for them has set a standard for others to follow. Please keep doing what you're doing so that we all have a lovely example to follow. Peace to you all...Namaste."
Maureen Becker: "Thank you Larry Morrissette and James Favel for taking the first step in such a tangible way to heal the rift between indigenous and non-indigenous communities in Manitoba. You have given us a standard to hold ourselves to. Now it's up to us, to DO it, when it is our turn to walk the walk and talk the talk."
Kristin MacLean: "You guys are awesome. Thank you for taking a step forward that you did not have to ....I hope this changes some thinking in the city and that we ALL stand up for anyone who is in trouble, like you did. Every community needs a Bear Clan!!"
Caroline Kiesel Whitelaw: "Thank you for all you've done for Cooper's family, friends, and the community, Bear Clan! You're pure class."
James Favel is the coordinator of Bear Clan. He says he's touched by the outpouring of support.
"To get this kind of recognition is overwhelming. It is inspiring and empowering. We just want to keep doing what we are doing. It was the right thing to do," said Favel.
Bear Clan joins the search
When a tip came in Cooper had been seen near Siloam Mission on Higgins Street, Favel mobilized his volunteers. They looked under bridges, backyards, dumpsters and backlanes up to Burrows Avenue. He stayed in regular contact with the Nemeth family letting them know where his volunteers had searched.
"If there was a possibility the boy was in our community, it was my responsibility to comb the area and to see that he was found," said Favel. "A child is a child. It doesn't matter where he is from. We are all connected."
Favel was coming off a night shift on the weekend when he heard Nemeth's body had been found. He was devastated. He spoke with the family and asked to be involved in the vigil. He never intended it to be as big as it was. In the end, more than 1,000 people showed up at a smudge ceremony organized by Favel. This at a time when many people in the aboriginal community continue their search for loved ones who have been murdered or gone missing, as the federal government prepares to hold an inquiry into the issue.
"That is a great reward for us to know the efforts that we have been putting out there trying to bring light [to] our cause. And to have that result, that's amazing," said Favel.
Public perception of the organization has shifted, Favel added. Last week, it was "the Bear Clan in the city's North End in a dark little corner." Favel says now his group is being referred to as "Winnipeg's Bear Clan."
"I feel we have arrived. We have been at this, walking the streets for 18 months now. This is a confirmation that our model is solid and we are being recognized as a force for good," he said.
- An earlier version of this story attributed Maureen Becker's quote to Cheryl James. In fact, James posted Becker's comment on Facebook.Feb 25, 2016 11:46 AM CT