The Bear Clan has moved into a new space in Winnipeg’s North End. It is a small open area with one bathroom. Still located on Selkirk Avenue, the office is so new it hasn’t been set up yet and on this night that is a good thing. It is standing room only as volunteers, a dozen media, and Grand Chief Arlen Dumas all wait for Governor General Julie Payette to arrive.

It is the first time the former astronaut is visiting Manitoba and she has chosen to walk the streets of the North End with the Bear Clan. Founder James Favel seems a little nervous meeting Payette, but soon those nerves dissipate as he rallies his troops and describes the evening to the volunteers who have come to make sure the streets are safe for the residents.

“We will be doing a shortened walk and will not be looking for sharps this evening,” his voice commands over the full room.

Payette has limited time and with the temperature hovering around minus 15 degrees with a minus 20 degree wind chill; it is a brisk seven block walk. But the cold November night doesn’t stop the shout outs of love that ring out for the Bear Clan. And just like in the summer, when Grand Chief Dumas first walked with the Bear Clan, people shout from cars and honk their horns in support of the volunteers, not knowing Gov. Gen. Payette is among the group this evening.

Favel explains the work the Bear Clan does to Payette. They have 45 chapters in different cities and neighbourhoods across the country. Each one creates their own rules for what works for them, says Favel. The Winnipeg chapter has now picked up 38,500 used syringes as of November 26, and over 55,000 tonnes of food has been donated. Payette listens intently and thanks Favel and all the volunteers for their work.

As the walk continues, a couple of the volunteers begin to ask Payette questions. What was it like in space? Do you know which star that is? Payette happily stops and takes a moment to point out Venus, and tries to find Mars, only to realize it is too early for the red planet to have risen over the northern hemisphere.

Support from the community

Suddenly Favel’s voice speaks loudly “We just broke $12,000.00 on our GoFundMe!” A cheer goes up among the volunteers.

Recently, Indigenous Services Canada announced it is developing a new way of funding for the Urban Program for Indigenous Peoples. The Bear Clan had received $100,000 this fiscal, but now this funding remains unstable for 2019-2020. And with the Bear Clan growing and evolving this funding is imperative in helping keep the streets safe.

“The GoFundMe was part of our plan to raise funds in light of the shortfall,” said Favel.

Although the fundraising campaign is set for a modest $25,000, the money raised will go to core funding and salaries.

“The funding that was announced two weeks ago is mostly earmarked and not useful for salaries,” he said, referring to the Province of Manitoba’s $200,000 commitment.

The night ends at the KeKiNan Centre for assisted living where Payette meets with a few residents. She listens to their concerns and then offers them a gift of what seems to be homemade granola bars. She takes last minute questions from the media after introducing herself to each one of them and shaking their hands. Favel is asked what it was like to have the Governor General of Canada along for the walk.

“This type of exposure is phenomenal for a relatively young organization like ours,” he said.

“It really does serve to validate our efforts.”

-Article courtesy of Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

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