Manitoba

'This is a good feel': Mama Bear Clan taking back streets in Winnipeg's North Point Douglas

They are warriors on patrol in North Point Douglas keeping an eye on streets many won’t walk on. They are the Mama Bear Clan — a group of women decked out in lime green T-shirts, armed with sweetgrass and each other.

Group born out of women’s warrior circle

The Mama Bear Clan is led by women and supported by men. (Austin Grabish / CBC )

They are warriors on patrol in North Point Douglas keeping an eye on streets many won't walk on.

They are the Mama Bear Clan — a group of women decked out in lime green T-shirts, armed with sweetgrass and each other.

There are 14 people out for tonight's walk. The group starts the night off by gathering in a circle and saying a prayer to Creator. Then it's time to hit the streets.

"North Point Douglas is our home," said Christie Paul. 
It's a common sight to see people intoxicated outside these bars on Main Street. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

"We're just kind of going out and checking out on our family, making sure everybody is doing OK. We're here to be supportive, friendly and welcoming. We're not security." 

Karen Thomas is a Mama Bear Clan captain and has been walking with the group since it started nine months ago.

"Feel the love," she said. "I'm walking actually because this is a good feel."

Thomas and the rest of the group cross the street and make their way to Main Street past a strip of bars and beer vendors. Many are intoxicated outside on the street.

"The people that are out here are just regular people down on their luck or whatever," Thomas said.

Karen Thomas is a Mama Bear Clan captain. "This is a good feel," she says. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

Wendy Burke lives in the area and has been walking with the Mama Bear Clan since it started, as a way to give back her community.

"I feel safe. I just hold my head high. I'm confident and kind and polite to the people," Burke said.

Burke is carrying suckers to hand out tonight. It's a small gesture that can go a long way, the group says.

Wendy Burke walks with the Mama Bear Clan to give back to her community. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

It's not long before the group comes into contact with a woman in distress. They think she's high on methamphetamine. The word on the street tonight is that it's back and being mixed with fentanyl.

"Hey, you all right? What's your name?" asks Thomas.

The woman replies, slurring her words.

"It's all good. It's all G. It's all G."

The Mama Bear Clan debates what to do — keep walking, give the woman a walk home or call police.

She's offered a piece of sweetgrass and a candy while the group figures out what to do.

"Obviously we're concerned. It's cold. We're not sure if she's going to pass out somewhere, but these are sort of tricky kinds of situations," Paul said, adding the group is worried the woman will walk into traffic.

The Mama Bear Clan hands out sweetgrass to people on Winnipeg streets. It's a small gesture they say goes a long way. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

She does. This is a common scenario for Mama Bear Clan members. The group tries to get her to come back to the sidewalk, but she doesn't want help. They wait for her and move on once she's safe.

There are men out on tonight's walk — the idea behind the Mama Bear clan is that it's led by women but supported by men.

Ronald Barron has been walking with the Mama Bear Clan since May. He's gotten a tip from a man that there's something to look into at a nearby house.

"He said there's some trouble in a house here. Drugs," he said.

Bear Clan expansion 'very rewarding'

Barron said the group will make a note of it and check out the house later. If it's serious, they'll call police.

Much of what the Mama Bear Clan is doing is happening nearby on the other side of Selkirk Avenue with the original Bear Clan Patrol.

It dates back to 1992 and was reborn in 2014 following the high-profile Tina Fontaine homicide. It now patrols Winnipeg streets five nights a week, but the group doesn't go into the area the Mama Bear Clan patrols.

Bear Clan Patrol co-founder James Favel said he never thought the Bear Clan would expand like this.

"I mean, it's amazing," he said, adding the clan has plans to start chapters in Vancouver and Lethbridge, Alta. There's already a group starting in Toronto and another in Regina based on the Winnipeg model, he said.

Bear Clan Patrol co-founder James Favel says he never expected the patrol to grow into what it has. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Favel said he's anxious to see the latest crime stats from Winnipeg police because he's convinced the Bear Clan and its new female counterpart is making a real difference in the community.

"It's very rewarding," he said.

Robert Wiens is one of the original Bear Clan members that patrolled Winnipeg streets 25 years ago.

He started walking with the Mama Bear Clan five months ago and said while the area has been cleaned up, much of what he's seeing today was what he saw all those years ago.

"There's still people working the streets out here. There's still people lying on the streets outside here," he said.

The Mama Bear Clan is hoping to expand just like the original Bear Clan did. Above, a mama bear puts a jacket around a woman who's out in the cold on Main Street. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

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