Treaty 3 Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh said he was truly happy to be among the special guest speakers at the Bear Clan announcement Friday.

He said he was originally invited to announce a six-month pilot project worth $200,000. However, the details changed quickly. By Friday morning, he was part of a patrol that would go into effect immediately, and it would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"I know we need their expertise in dealing with the issues that we have in Kenora," he said. "It's about time we had our own people able to patrol the streets of Kenora again. They know how to address our people, who are very vulnerable people."

He noted the medical issues, mental health needs, pandemic concerns. The grand chief said the coronavirus outbreak has increased the number of mental health and addiction needs, while also contributing to a lack of seasonal employment for guides and staff at outfitters, due to the closure of the American border. 

Kavanaugh acknowledged the presence of the Bear Clan during the Search for Delaine four years ago, and he thanked them for coming back.

"I took exception to the bylaw that was being proposed," he noted. "That was not a tool to deal with homelessness."

He preferred to see the conversations between the Bear Clan members and those on the streets. Still, he emphasized one party can't resolve the issues.

"It's going to require us talking to one another, us talking together," he said, as he invited the municipal, provincial and federal governments to sit down together.

He noted the example of Medicine Hat, where they say homelessness isn't an issue. The grand chief also noted the history of Anicinabe Park, which at one time was a place for Indigenous people to stay, when they came off the lake to collect supplies and do business.

He said Treaty 3 elders see the sale of Indian House at the park to the city, as the beginning of homelessness in Kenora.

"What's missing in Kenora is a green space. There needs to be a place identified in the surrounding area, where people can safely get together and not have people complain about them. There needs to be that place," he said.

The grand chief was anticipating next steps for the justice centre, which will operate in Kenora, but he says a location is needed. 

"COVID has exasperated what's happening today, but most of all we need to come together. We need to look to one another as partners. We all come from backgrounds, where we can contribute to make this situation better, maybe even eradicate it," he said.

Finally, the grand chief offered some personal reflections on the issue of homelessness. He recalled his five siblings, who went to residential school. Four of them had trouble with alcohol and died early. The fifth became a loner, who didn't want to see other people. Kavanaugh noted he didn't have to go to the residential schools, and it was like having two different families.

The grand chief said he would ask his brother why he would come into Kenora. He was told his older brother enjoyed the company, as he had people he could talk to about his issues and his problems. It was like another community or culture, which his brother could be a part of.

For more information:

Bear Clan now on patrol 24/7

Pandemic response includes homeless, commission

Human rights commission calls on leaders to assist vulnerable