Okihtcitawak Patrol Group: Providing an Essential Service
There are countless organizations in Saskatoon providing valuable services to communities in need. The Okihtcitawak Patrol Group is one of those organizations. They are an indigenous led group that provides community support in the Pleasant Hill and Riversdale areas. I spoke with Delano earlier this week and learned more about their efforts and how the last year has gone.
Our conversation began with me getting the correct pronunciation of Okihtcitawak, a Cree word for protector. For as often as I’ve been following the group through social media, it didn’t feel right that I had never said their full name, only referring to them as OPG. After that was out of the way, Delano gave me a rundown of the organization’s history.
Unfortunately, their origin doesn’t come from the most positive places. In 2018 a young girl was abducted at a Pleasant Hill School Park and after saying she never felt safe at the park again, Colin Naytowhow and Lanny McDonald started the patrol group. They initially started by watching the playgrounds and parks, keeping an eye out for potential predators. Since then they have started expanding their services. In 2019 the group partnered with Prairie Harm Reduction to begin needle pickups. Beyond that, the Okihtcitawak patrol group hands out essentials to those in need, including water bottles, snacks, and personal care products. They try to offer support to people in crisis and direct them to services that can help.
An important aspect of their work is including a cultural component to what they do. They’ve led walks, drum circles and songs and participated in other initiatives to support and raise awareness for the Indigenous community. There are only a handful of members (Delano himself was a volunteer before becoming a member) and the rest of the team is made up of volunteers. It’s very obvious how important their work is, but I still had to make sure I mentioned that to Delano multiple times during our conversation.
Working through the Pandemic
Like everyone around the world, the patrol group felt the impact of the COVID impact. They were forced to reduce the amount of volunteers, which made it challenging to continue offering their full services, which also had to be cut due to the pandemic and loss of donations coming in. What might’ve hurt the most though, was how they had to change their interactions with the people they served. The most important part of that is making a connection with the people they interact with, and that became hard to do with social distancing and reduced conversation time.
Coming out of COVID and into the back half of 2021, they face a new challenge. Just as they were stretched thin to offer their services during the pandemic, they now find themselves having to say no to people asking for their help. As more people have begun looking for alternative community services, the patrol group has seen an increase in phone calls asking for their help. And as much as they want to help, Delano says they just aren’t well equipped enough to provide assistance to everyone that needs it, and they aren’t alone in this. A lot of the time, the patrol group will refer someone in crisis to the Salvation Army or Lighthouse to give them a safe place for shelter. More and more now, they aren’t able to do that because those services are also full and can’t take on anymore people.
Supporting Grass Roots Initiatives
It’s a shame that we have people and organizations like the Okihtcitawak Patrol Group who are doing everything they can to provide support to people in our city that need it, and want to do even more, but can’t because they don’t have the resources they need. I asked Delano how we could help, and he said the easiest and first step is spreading the word about the group and their efforts. Monetary donations are always appreciated, but they can use supplies to include in their patrols and weekly donations. I’ve included a list below of what they are looking for. They could also use the help of more volunteers, so if you’re interested be sure to reach out to the group through their Facebook or Instagram.
I’ll end this with a message Delano asked me to share. The Okihtcitawak Patrol Group is a community driven and Indigenous led organization that strives to support and grow the community. They ask that everyone continues to follow along with them and spread the word.
If you want to follow the Okihtcitawak Patrol Group:
If you want to make a donation, please reach out through OPG's Instagram or Facebook.
Besides financial support, they are looking for donations of the following:
- Soft fruit
- Granola bars
- Ready to hand out snacks
- Adult sized socks
- Menstrual products
- Hygienic products
- Shaving products
- Oral care products
- Travel size Shampoo & Body wash
Thanks everyone for your support!