Mama Bear Clan: Meet the women-led group patrolling Winnipeg streets
Volunteers now patrol some of city’s toughest streets
By Martha Troian, CBC News, November 30, 2016
Jennifer Roulette knows what it feels like to live in poverty and to lose her home, all while being a single mom.
The 33-year-old Winnipeg mother of four says she can relate to the people on the street whom she now spends her time helping.
Roulette is part of the Mama Bear Clan, a group of volunteers keeping an eye on the street and its people.
Born out of a women’s group called the Women’s Warrior Circle from the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre, the Mama Bear Clan is led by predominantly Indigenous women and supported by men.
“I was evicted and a single parent struggling and my house burned down with four kids,” said Roulette, who has two special needs children and still has a tough time making ends meet.
“I know how hard it is to get ahead.”
Roulette lives off Main Street, with its notorious strip of bars, and sees and hears the sometimes difficult life of people who call the area home.
Members of the Mama Bear Clan proudly wear new badges on their vests featuring their logo — an image of two bears.
The group picks up used needles from behind buildings and alleyways and distributes blankets and food to the homeless.
Their route takes them down Main Street to take care of those frequently overlooked by society.
Taking back the neighbourhood
The Mama Bear Clan got help from the Bear Clan, a well-established patrol group rooted in the North End and inner city.
It also patrols areas close to the Red River, something Roulette said is important given the high number of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Winnipeg.
“I recall women being dumped there and hearing screaming and stuff, so I mean, we’re just providing a presence, and if we see anything happening, like women in a car or somebody needing help.”
Another reason Roulette patrols the area is to take back the neighbourhood, because it has claimed the lives of her relatives.
Her dad’s cousin was killed in the neighbourhood she patrols, one of two homicides in the area over the past year.
Family, friends on patrol
Her two older sons also help out on patrol night and her daughter helps to prepare snacks at her school that will get delivered to the homeless.
Samantha Chief, 33, originally from Garden Hill First Nation, also patrols with Mama Bear Clan. She’s been Roulette’s best friend since Grade 1.
Chief is a mother of nine, a full-time student and a self-described “community goer.”
She helps with the Mama Bear Clan because she too knows first-hand what it’s like to live on Main Street.
“I grew up on Main Street my whole entire life. I remember seeing my family members down to nothing,” said Chief.
When she was just five, Chief was sexually abused by a close family friend, something that continued until she was 10.
By the time she was 11, Chief started to drink and stay at “flop houses” — places where drugs and alcohol were common, and where she said it was easy to be exploited by strangers.
It wasn’t until Chief started to have her own children that her life slowly turned around.
Missing and murdered
Patrolling the city streets and helping young Indigenous women and girls are what’s important for Chief now.
Chief’s children are related to Claudette Osborne, a 21-year-old mother of four who disappeared from the inner city in 2008.
“It’s heartbreaking, because she was a mother, she was a person, and everybody still cares and misses her,” said Chief.
“It’s very important. We need to empower our women to become stronger and to show them that, if we get together, there are so many amazing things that we can do.”
Chief is back at school, with plans to become an accountant.
Just as important for her is learning and living the good life through Indigenous teachings and ceremony — and giving hugs to the people on Main Street.
“I got big dreams, but I’ll make it,” she said.