The following blog has been written as part of my final assignment for SWK322: Indigenous People and Social Work Practice:
On Friday, September 7, 2018 I went with four other social work students to attend a patrol in the West End of Winnipeg that was organized by Bear Clan Patrol. Bear Clan Patrol aims to promote safety in communities with large Indigenous populations that have been seen to have high-risks of crime and drug use. The patrol that I went on walked down residential streets and back lanes looking for used needles that could be hazardous if discovered by pedestrians. The needles are primarily used for methamphetamine injections and some still have substances within them when discovered. Once collected, the needles found during patrols get disposed of in safe ways.
At the patrol were persons from all over Winnipeg coming from Indigenous as well as non-Indigenous backgrounds. Having persons from various circumstances shows how there is an understanding of the needs that at risk communities have and that different communities have an awareness of ways to be allies and create safety. By attending this event, my own understanding of the topic has been changed as prior to hearing about Bear Clan I was not aware that there was such a high amount of meth use in my community nor that used needles were so common to find in residential areas. Living in the West End I felt especially impacted by the prevalence of needles as the small patrol group collected over 120 needles and Bear Clan continues to find discarded needles each night patrols are conducted.
By attending a patrol organized by Bear Clan my own understanding of issues of crime and safety have been enhanced. In my previous research I focused on the high incarceration rates of Indigenous persons and though community safety was an issue within the literature, there was no mention of ways that community members can take actions of their own. Through volunteering at Bear Clan Patrol I have seen that there are positive ways of contributing to the health of high-risk communities that focus on the strengths of persons in peaceful ways rather than creating more tension among community members. When partaking in the patrol, members of the community expressed kindness and gratitude towards volunteers, even pointing out where they have seen needles themselves. Additionally, my understanding of how the history of colonialism and oppressive policies continue to impact Indigenous persons has been deepened. It is one thing to read about the long term effects of trauma but to actually see the effects in persons has given me greater empathy towards such issues and has increased my desires to continue being an ally to Indigenous persons.
To attend a Bear Clan Patrol all one has to do is show up as anyone eighteen and over can attend. Once one arrives to volunteer, sign up forms are provided and a brief time of instruction is given. The events are organized and run by volunteers that welcome newcomers with excitement. With the participation of volunteers, patrols are very successful as various streets get searched and greater amounts of needles are found with higher volunteer involvement.
Within the Truth and Reconciliation Common’s Calls to Action, two area of focus relevant to the actions that Bear Clan takes are Indigenous health and justice. In relation to these calls to action I have learned that there is a great need for improvements to be made for Indigenous persons and the communities that they live in. Though needles being left on streets may be seen as a small issue, the dangers that they can create are a cause for concern. Use of substances creates hazards within neighbourhoods that could lead persons towards being incarcerated and face health concerns that not only impact those that use but also persons that interact with users and those who come into contact with discarded needles. Though such issues cannot disappear overnight, there are ways that community members can take action and become allies to Indigenous persons that are as simple as giving a few hours that may just end up saving lives.
The West End Patrol meets at 5:30 at the University of Winnipeg in The Hive on Thursdays and Fridays to patrol from 6-9 pm. Other Winnipeg patrols are located in the North End and West Broadway. Learn more by emailing