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Bear Clan member off to Austria

Brandon Bear Clan patrol member Marshall Morrisseau has a prestigious trip ahead of him.

The community steward has been chosen to join the Canadian delegation of ministers, government officials and advocates participating in the 63rd session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Morrisseau will travel to Vienna, Austria, in early March.

"I was so pleased and so impressed when Marshall brought this forward as an opportunity. He asked if I would help him and that was an absolute honour," said Giselle Campbell, one of 13 on the Bear Clan Women’s Council. "I knew this was going to happen. They couldn’t have chosen anybody better."

She wrote a letter of support and helped Morrisseau with his application package. His sister helped, as well.

Campbell said Morrisseau’s knowledge is deep and from the heart.

The commission is one of the functional commissions of the United Nations Economic and Social Council and is the central drug policy-making body within the UN system, and has important functions under the international drug control conventions, according to the UN’s website.

The opportunity came by way of his affiliation with We Matter as an ambassador of hope, a national program to empower Indigenous youth. It was that project’s co-ordinator who alerted him to the opportunity, saying it was a good fit.

"They were looking for a youth representative, and basically the youth delegate is age 18 to 24 and has knowledge, experience with narcotics and drug use in their community, is aware of the needs, and has an awareness of what needs to be implemented as far as services go, and what sort of programming a community or even the province would need," Morrisseau said.

For the Bear Clan, the 23-year-old Cree man works with people who struggle with addictions. He is one of two outreach workers. He outlined this work, what he has seen and come to know, including the needs that must be met. He noted the work he’s done in the past with child and family services agencies, with youth who struggled with addictions.

"That started my own knowledge of harm reduction, which is a big thing that we believe here," said Morrisseau.

Campbell is especially excited, as the news about Morrisseau comes days after James Favel, the Winnipeg Bear Clan Patrol’s leader, learned he would travel to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, to participate in the UN’s World Urban Forum Feb. 8 to 13.

The Bear Clan Patrol concept, resurrected in Winnipeg by Favel in 2015, has spread to more than 60 communities across Canada.

As the Brandon chapter puts it on their Facebook page, the patrol is a community-based solution to crime prevention, providing a sense of safety, solidarity and belonging to both its members and to the community.

Volunteers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, walk the streets, hand out food, warm clothing and other necessities.

Morrisseau is an active advocate – he was hired last year to increase donations and increase contact in the community. On patrol, he wears the same telltale bright orange vest the other volunteers wear. Most recently, he takes out a mock youth patrol where he teaches young people about the work being done.

"I do a lot of the trench work so the women’s council can focus on the strategic planning," said Morrisseau.

Donations are steady and have increased, while there are more than 350 volunteers registered to patrol. Each Thursday and Friday, 20 patrollers head out.

"When it (the Bear Clan) started, there was a high need for those that are out on the street. I see there being change in the way that we have people who are advocating for those that are struggling. With the needles, as well, there’s a crisis in our downtown. We’ve addressed that by disposing of them properly," Morrisseau said.

He adds that the Bear Clan has helped bridge the education gap, addressing the stigma people can heap on those who are struggling with addiction and those who are homeless.

"It’s not rocket science. It’s just caring for people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous," said Campbell, quoting Favel.

When he applied, Morrisseau said to his partner Gabrielle Jubinville he was definitely going to Austria. He feels everything he’s done so far has led to this opportunity. Wednesday, the day before his birthday, he woke up to the news.

"Guess who else is going to the UN," Campbell asked him.

Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun