A new Bear Clan Patrol group has been formed at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in response to Westman’s ongoing methamphetamine crisis.
Melissa Bone, who took the lead in organizing the group, said the community held several meth awareness workshops during recent months, which made people realize the impact the drug was having on Sioux Valley.
“(I) started educating myself on the dangers and uses of meth, the effects, the withdrawal and I just started sharing with our community members what I knew and how to deal with it and how to help (users),” she said.
Bear Clans is an organization started in Winnipeg that finds volunteers patrol urban areas. Members wear brightly coloured vests and carry supplies to help community members. In both the Brandon and Sioux Valley incarnations, members also pick up used needles they find on the street that have been improperly disposed of, placing them in hard-sided sharps containers.
Bone said she estimates there are around 100 meth users in Sioux Valley — a community of approximately 2,400 — and that some recent deaths have been blamed on meth use.
“We’re there to support them and trying to get them off meth (and into) harm reduction,” she said. “We’re not out to hurt anybody or try to judge them at all either, and we’re looking at supporting them rather than putting them in a worse situation.”
The Sioux Valley branch went out on its first patrol on Dec. 16, Bone said, and walked a route around the community’s school. She said “thankfully” they didn’t find any needles or drug paraphernalia that evening. She said the next patrol will be on Dec. 23, when they will walk a route around the town’s public buildings and some residential neighbourhoods.
Some towns and Indigenous communities have banned addicts and the drug dealers, a move Bone said she doesn’t believe is beneficial.
“They’re human beings too, and they have feelings and they don’t know what they’re going through or the reasons why they’re addicted,” Bone said. “They need help with healing themselves in order to overcome their addiction. Kicking them off the reserve, taking their children from them, taking everything from them is going put them in a worse way than they already are.”
She said starting a Bear Clan patrol seemed like the best way to help the community while being supportive of people currently dealing with meth addiction who have nowhere else to turn. They don’t yet know what evening they will be patrolling on a permanent basis, but Bone said the group will be going door-to-door in the near future to distribute pamphlets about the patrol and raise awareness about meth use in the area.
To get involved with the Bear Clan Patrol, people can message the Sioux Valley group’s Facebook page or phone the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation office.