Winnipeg Bear Clan aims to help Fox Lake heal after allegations of abuse from Hydro workers

Winnipeg's Bear Clan Patrol is going north next month to consult with people in Fox Lake Cree Nation. In a recently released report, members of the northern community detailed allegations of abuse by Hydro and contract workers that go back decades.

Members of northern Manitoba community allege abuse by Hydro and contract workers going back decades

Bear Clan Patrol co-founder James Favel says he will travel to Fox Lake Cree Nation to help the community develop its own neighbourhood outreach program based on the Winnipeg model. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Winnipeg's Bear Clan Patrol is going north next month to share wisdom with a First Nation suffering from decades-old abuses residents allege they suffered at the hands of Manitoba Hydro workers.

Bear Clan co-founder James Favel says leadership with Fox Lake Cree Nation reached out to him months ago, and then again in July, asking if he would visit the remote community, 700 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, to explain the successes of the citizen patrol program and how to adapt it to a reserve setting.

"We're not going to go and solve the problems," Favel told CBC Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa on Wednesday. "The community is going to solve the problems. We have a program that will help to empower them to do it, is my hope."

The invitation came just before the release of a damning report by the Clean Environment Commission, an arm's-length provincial agency tasked with reviewing the social impact of hydro development in northern communities.

The commission met with members of Fox Lake, who alleged in the report they experienced or witnessed sexual assault, abuse and instances of racism at the hands of Hydro and contract workers going back 50 years.

Fox Lake members also told the commission they felt marginalized and lost out on socioeconomic opportunities in their own community.

It all adds up to lingering trauma Fox Lake CEO Robert Wavey likened to the generational effects residential schools had on Indigenous kids and families.

'It's the community that does the healing'

Though Favel says he has been in talks with community leaders for six months, the allegations that came to light in the report bring an added sense of urgency to his visit.

The volunteer-run Bear Clan Patrol leads walks through Winnipeg's inner city and North End every week to provide an added sense of security to the streets. Members do everything from helping to search for missing persons and picking up discarded needles to helping those at-risk or in need of medical attention.

The group has inspired 30 similar programs in other cities and provinces, and now Favel says Fox Lake and other remote First Nations want to devise their own patrols.

Favel says the Winnipeg model won't necessarily work as-is for Fox Lake, because that community is so spread out, although he says one other northern community in Ontario has tweaked the Bear Clan formula and made it a success.

The point of the meeting in Fox Lake, Favel says, is to give the community a framework from which they can organize their own program best suited to their needs.

"I hope to empower the community to heal itself," Favel said.

"That's the message I think that Bear Clan needs to be pushing out there, is that we're not the healing ourselves — it's the community that does the healing. The program is just a tool and conduit, and that's what I want to get out there."

With files from Isaac Wurmann