Bear Clan watching out for vulnerable on city streets

An ‘old way of being’ has been introduced to Calgary in late November by an indigenous led and volunteer-based group known as the Bear Clan Patrol.

Bundled-up bears: Council members of Bear Clan and volunteers on patrol on Jan. 17.  The group had just done another downtown patrol, in -26 C temperature. (Photo by Luca Staffa/The Press)

An ‘old way of being’ was introduced to Calgary in late November by an indigenous led and volunteer-based group known as the Bear Clan Patrol.

Gitz Crazyboy, council member of Bear Clan in Calgary, said that the group’s initiatives are to have community watch-groups patrol the streets to help Calgary’s most vulnerable, while supplying food, clothes, hygiene products, and naloxone kits to those who need them.

“We’re here to humanize people who have an addiction, or who are living on the streets,” he said.

Crazyboy said being part of the Bear Clan also fulfills an ancestral “way of being” in regards to his Indigenous heritage.

“We’re warriors, and part of the warrior’s role in our culture is to protect our community.”

Crazyboy decided to initiate the Bear Clan chapter in Calgary after going on his first patrol in Winnipeg, where the Bear Clan group originated.

The Bear Clan does two patrols every Friday, one downtown and another in Forest Lawn.

They walk a six- to seven-block radius and hit all the “hot-spots” in about three to four hours.

“We’re checking-in with and befriending [vulnerable] people, something our society conditions us not to do,” said Crazyboy.

The Bear Clan’s patrols also include the clean-up of needles and other drug-related contaminants they find.

Crazyboy said that they have found up to 80 needles on the street on just one of their patrols.

The clan takes volunteers on patrols if they sign a waiver, and are present at safety meetings before patrols.

Staci Duchene braved Calgary’s cold snap in mid-January and went on patrol with the Bear Clan for the first time, because she believes that it’s up to members of the community to make the right changes.

She said that it’s not up to the government or non-profits, and responsibility needs to be taken within the community.

“That’s the only way good change can happen,” she said.

Crazyboy fears that people who are marginalized and homeless are afraid to seek help, partly because of stigma and lived experience with police and other city services.

“People living on the streets won’t talk to police or [city services], but they will talk to us,” he said.

He said that the Bear Clan is there to help amplify the voices that are too scared to speak, so they keep it anonymous and pass information on for those people.

“We’re also trying to change the mentality of the police,” he added.

In the future, Bear Clan wants to start doing searchs for missing people, but Crazyboy said they lack the manpower to do so right now.

We’re warriors, and part of the warrior’s role in our culture is to protect our community. – Gitz Crazyboy

Hip Beranger has been on patrols with the Bear Clan in Calgary for the past three months. He joined because, “There is a lack of care in this world.”

“Loneliness is what most of the people we’re helping are feeling out there, and loneliness is the biggest killer,” he said.

“If you’re sincere with your actions, then a little bit of compassion goes a long way.”

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