Dozens of junior high school students in Winnipeg stuck around after class Wednesday to patrol the neighbourhood around their school, and learn what it takes to be part of the Bear Clan citizen patrol group.
General Wolfe School, in the city’s Daniel McIntyre neighbourhood, participated in the first mock youth patrol — a collaboration between the Winnipeg School Division, the Winnipeg Police Service and the Bear Clan that aims to encourage community involvement by young people.
“We want to extend our role within the school, because we’re all about harm reduction,” said Mario Cueto, who is a director of the Bear Clan and also a teacher at General Wolfe, where he chairs the school’s Indigenous education committee.
“If we’re getting the kids to focus on being part of Bear Clan and trying to help others, we’re hoping that a lot of that empathy rubs off on them and then they consider being more active within the community.”
Prior to patrolling streets and back lanes near the school, students learned about the Indigenous perspective the Bear Clan brings to its work, as well as what they might expect to see while on patrol.
The group later found at least seven needles in a back lane about a block away from General Wolfe School.
As spring approaches, that’s something patrollers will find more often, Cueto said.
“All the needles and all the hazards are starting to get exposed because of the melt,” he said. “It’s everywhere.… We’ve picked up needles behind the Manitoba Club.”
Young people leading the way
While school staff, members of Bear Clan and police were present, two young girls led the patrol.
“We don’t need the older people to lead us all the time. Kids could do the same things that people think older people have to do,” said 10-year-old Malaya Cueto, who is Mario Cueto’s daughter.
Malaya Cueto and Jersey Bella, 9, are both part of youth Bear Clan patrols in other Winnipeg neighbourhoods, which they first heard about through family members.
Bella said it was important they were at the helm, given their past experience.
“If [the students] are not looking … they could step on glass or something dangerous, so they have to stay back of us,” she said.
The pair have seen needles, and Malaya Cueto says she once came across a blade.
Bella added that members of the youth Bear Clan Patrol also provide care packages, containing items such as toothpaste and snacks, to homeless people they encounter.
General Wolfe student Faylee Ferland-Patrick, who would often spot the group walking around her local recreation centre, said she wanted to sign up for the mock patrol after finding several needles in her yard and around her street. A younger cousin almost picked one up, she said.
“I didn’t want her to get hurt, or any other kids,” Ferland-Patrick said.
The Bear Clan plans to hold another mock youth patrol at Gordon Bell High School in West Broadway, Cueto said.