Thunder Bay

A new patrol called '58 Protectors' aiming to keep Long Lake 58 First Nation safe

There's a new group in town patrolling the streets, working to keep people safe in Long Lake 58 First Nation. They’re called the 58 Protectors.

The new patrol is an initiative led by women in the community

The new patrol group, the 58 Protectors, are working to help keep drugs out of their community and their children safe. (Noreen Agnew )

There's a new group in town patrolling the streets, working to keep people safe in Long Lake 58 First Nation. They're called the 58 Protectors and they've reportedly made a big difference helping youth in the community.

"There was something that needed to be done,"  said Noreen Agnew, the coordinator of the 58 Protectors, who does comprehensive community planning in Long Lake 58.  The community is located about 250 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont.

This past summer, the community was dealing with a series of tragedies. A 15-year-old boy died by suicide; a month later, a young mother did as well. Nine other youth were hospitalized after suicide attempts and a group of young girls made a suicide pact, Agnew said.

"We felt like we were in a crisis," she added.

There were also problems with kids staying out late, starting fires and getting into trouble.

The First Nation was looking into ways to make the community safer and Agnew was assigned to look at ways to protect the youth. She and a group of women in the community came together to lead a new initiative similar to the Bear Clan — the volunteer patrol organization that's active in a number of Canadian cities, including Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. 

"These women with me when we started had the same goal and same heart," said Agnew. "They wanted the same thing for the community." 

The group met with community members and concluded that the root cause of a lot of the problems stemmed from issues of addiction, according to Agnew.

"The kids were being neglected and hurt," she added.

Before the patrol started, the band office and parents came up with a curfew for the youth. Those 11-years-old and younger needed to be home by 9 p.m. and teenagers 12 to 17-years-old needed to be in by 11 p.m. However, the curfew wasn't being enforced.

The women then came up with a group of about 16 people who were seen as strong leaders in the community to be in the 58 Protectors. In mid-October they started their patrol. It splits into smaller groups with some people on foot and some driving around, communicating with each other through radio.

The 58 Protectors identified suspected drug houses and kept an eye on them, Agnew said. When patrol members saw people going to the homes, they spoke up and said they weren't tolerating drug dealing in their community.

We wanted them to understand that our kids came first- Noreen Agnew

"We did it in a very loving and very respectful way though," said Agnew. "We wanted them to understand that our kids came first and we were doing it for our children and for our youth."

Word spread and fewer people started coming to buy drugs, Agnew said.

"We were faced with a lot of aggression, a lot of frustration, a lot of people didn't like what we were doing but eventually they understood," said Agnew.

The patrol goes out Thursday through Saturday nights. At first they would be out from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Now, they finish up around midnight because there aren't as many people out. 

"When I know they are going around I feel more safe," said Veronica Waboose, the Chief of Long Lake 58 First Nation. "It's starting to quiet down and they're doing a good job."

A group of women in Long Lake 58 First Nation came up with the idea to make a patrol similar to the Thunder Bay Bear Clan to help keep the community safe. (Noreen Agnew )

The 58 Protectors have also partnered with the community's Migizi Miigwanan Secondary School so youth who come out with the patrol will receive hours towards their volunteer requirement for graduation.

"I thought it was a good opportunity for me to show the young ones what not to do," said Chad Desmoulin, a youth in the 58 Protectors.

Desmoulin is in his senior year of high school and wants be a leader and set a good example for the community.

"I wish the younger kids will show the littler kids the way of what we do and they can follow in our footsteps and keep the patrol going in the near future," said Desmoulin. 

About 10 youth are signed up to join the 58 Protectors and Desmoulin said he's been asked by his classmates how to join.

We want to keep our elders safe, we want to keep our children safe-Long Lake 58 Chief Veronica Waboose

The nights the 58 Protectors are active, they also keep the community centre open — where their dispatcher works — for youth who need a safe place to go or someone to talk to.

They log every patrol with what happened as well as names and licence plate numbers of people allegedly buying or selling drugs. They hope that the chief and council will take the next steps when it comes to dealing with drugs in the community, now that they have more information from the logs.

"We want to work it out within our own community," said Agnew. "As far as getting people help, healing and counseling. Taking that initiative to help or community rather than putting them in jail."

More and more people are volunteering to join the 58 protectors, according to Waboose. 

"We want to keep our elders safe, we want to keep our children safe," she said. "I know it's going to take a while but it's starting and were taking it in our own hands we are doing it ourselves."

Agnew said the 58 Protectors won't be going anywhere as long as the community is still healing.

"It's something we feel like we have to do," said Agnew.