Manitoba recognizing Indigenous Disability Awareness Month a ‘huge deal,’ Cree writer says

For the first time ever, Manitoba will recognize that November is Indigenous Disability Awareness Month — something that is especially important for Winnipegger Frances Sinclair-Kaspick.

The Cree quadrilateral amputee who is an advocate for Indigenous people living with disabilities believes it’s a “huge deal.”

“We’re going to be included in society and hopefully we can really move forward with this month and with this awareness,” she said in an interview with Stephanie Cram on CBC Manitoba’s Weekend Morning Show on Sunday.

The awareness month was originally started by the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society in 2015 to bring “awareness of these barriers and the issues that Indigenous peoples living with disabilities and their families face every day,” the website says. 

Indigenous people in Canada experience a disability rate higher than that of the general population, according to data from Statistics Canada. In addition, they often face challenges accessing supports that people living in urban centres have readily available.

Frances Sinclair-Kaspick is a Cree quadrilateral amputee who wrote “The Mountain Within.” She’s an advocate for Indigenous people with disabilities. (Submitted by Frances Sinclair-Kaspick)

“For example, if they have a scooter or motorized wheelchair, how do we get the battery out there and get it installed to a fly-in community? Those types of services aren’t readily available out there,” said Sinclair-Kaspick.

She grew up in the inner city, facing a number of barriers because of her disability, as well as poverty and systemic racism. However, she feels privileged compared to some Indigenous people with disabilities.

“I was very, very fortunate to utilize all that and to reside here in the city. There’s a lot of [people with] disabilities that are forced to relocate and reside here in the city and leave the communities, leave their family, leave their supports because of medical reasons and accommodations,” she said.

She says acknowledging the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is just one step.

Indigenous people with disabilities who move to urban centres for better access to medical care can slip through the cracks of the system, Sinclair-Kaspick said.

“We need supports to be broadened and to be uniquely designed for our unique needs,” she said.

One of those cracks that Indigenous people with disabilities sometimes fall through is a lack of access to employment.

Sinclair-Kaspick worked to address that in a support group she helped found called the Aboriginal Disabled Self-Help Group, which is still in operation today.

“We had employment and advising counselors to identify goals, to educate and also to find unique employment that was specific to their working abilities,” she said.

Sinclair-Kaspick is also the author of the 2018 book “The Mountain Within,” which chronicles her life, including being raised by her grandmother.

The Cree woman gave her granddaughter unfaltering support and insisted that Sinclair-Kaspick not be “a quitter.”

The writer hopes the book will inspire others to share their stories.

“I would like with my book to open doors for [people with] other disabilities to come forward … to write their story, to bring awareness to us and understanding to our group.”

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