Visioning B.E.A.R. heads west with its message

  • Irene “Strong Oak” Lefebvre trains people to stand up to racism when they are bystanders at the First Congregational Church in Greenfield last year. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/22/2019 6:01:31 PM

The local group Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition will expand its prevention work to keep children safe using an indigenous circle process with a $50,000 grant it recently received from RALIANCE, a national partnership dedicated to ending sexual violence in one generation.

Irene “Strong Oak” Lefebvre said Visioning Bear’s goals include establishing highly visible and viable approaches to interpersonal violence prevention throughout intertribal communities, promoting open conversations about gender-based violence, preventing violence against the earth, establishing a restorative justice approach to ensure accountability for behavior by intertribal members and returning to a pre-colonization traditional value system. 

“We typically work tribes here in this area and throughout the Northeast, but we’re going to take our program to Wyoming this time and work in Wind River,” said Lefebvre. “Then we’ll bring back what we learn and use it here, so some of the grant will be used in this area.”

She said Visioning Bear will help build leadership so that members of tribes out there can take control of their own lives. She said there tends to be a lot of conflict and sexual assaults on reservations.

“It’s more of a national approach we’re taking this time around,” she said. 

Lefebvre said the group will train adults and youths on reservations to be leaders and will especially focus on ending childhood sexual assault.

“We want to promote safety in these tribal communities,” she said. “There tends to be substance and other types of abuse, as well as gangs. Some of it seems to be connected with federal policies.”

Lefebvre said because federal housing authorities are involved on reservations, people are afraid to report problems, because they are afraid of losing their housing. Therefore, those problems continue and victims feel helpless.

“We are going there to empower these communities by using storytelling and circles,” she said. “We’ll be working to not only end trauma, but to prevent it in the first place.”

Lefebvre, who worked at New England Learning Center for Women in Transition at one point, said the program will include teaching conflict resolution and restorative justice practices. She said a similar program at the local nonprofit was “immensely successful” when working with traumatized women. She said Visioning Bear expands on that type of work.

Lefebvre said during circle, everyone listens to each other’s stories — topics include peace and justice. 

“We want everyone to have the courage to speak up when something is happening to them or they see something happening to someone else,” she said. “We also teach people to live with compassion and empathy.”

She said they form a circle, because there are “no sides” to a circle.

Lefebvre said Visioning Bear will teach self care, as well as how to help others. She said the restorative justice part will involve discussing the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community.

She said the group has run similar programs at Leyden Woods in Greenfield, for instance.

“Every child has a right to reach his or her potential,” she said. “This is why we’re doing this. There’s lots of work to be done locally, as well. We’ll continue that when we return. Most of all, we want people to become self-reliant and connect to the land while doing so.”

Last year, Visioning B.E.A.R. and Racial Justice Rising offered free monthly workshops to teach people how to stand up to abuse when they witness it.

For more information about Visioning Bear, visit:


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