New project gives a voice to indigenous people with disabilities

Indigenous persons with disabilities do not have a recognized voice in either their own Aboriginal communities or within national disabilities communities. They are essentially invisible and their rights silenced by the fact they are made a low priority on policy agendas or national efforts to meet international human rights obligations.

A new project led by York health policy & management Professor Marcia Rioux, director of the York Institute for Health Research (YIHR), seeks to change this fact by developing human rights education within communities of First Nations people with disabilities.

Marcia RiouxRight: Marcia Rioux

The project, “Understanding our Rights: First Nations Peoples with Disabilities Engage in Human Rights Education”, will empower indigenous people with disabilities by giving them the culturally relevant knowledge and skills to become their own advocates and strategize positive changes in the lives of their communities.

The project’s indigenous name – Giinawind bio ji wiijii’iweyang – translates into “Nothing about us without us”. It has received a $50,000 Canadian Heritage Grant to build on expertise established by Rioux and her partners through the ongoing Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI), a major Community-University Research Alliances (CURA) project funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada that is based at York University.

With collaborators Mihaela Dinca-Panaitescu, DRPI-Canada project coordinator, and Doreen Demas, president of the First Nations disABILITY Association of Manitoba Inc. (FNDA), Rioux hopes to raise awareness within indigenous communities on disability rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which required all governments that have ratified the convention, as Canada did on March 11, 2010, to provide information on the measures they have taken to integrate persons with disabilities into their societies. As part of the project to incorporate the rights of indigenous persons with disabilities, Rioux and her colleagues will present a range of workshops involving First Nations peoples with various types of disability and experiences will be provided by DRPI both on and off First Nations reserves.

“Training resources will be developed that draw upon indigenous traditional knowledges and values,” says Rioux. “The resources will be available in accessible formats to be used by people with various types of disabilities.”

More than 100 people with disabilities from Canada’s First Nations will participate in the workshops, says Rioux. The workshops will be organized in two settings located on reserves in Manitoba and to urban Aboriginals living within the city of Winnipeg. Simultaneous translation from English into a variety of First Nations languages coupled with accessible formats will serve to fully engage workshop participants.

Rioux hopes that by taking a “train the trainer” approach in the workshops, participants will take this knowledge back to their communities and develop other rights education initiatives beyond the life of the project.

 Mihaela Dinca-PanaitescuLeft: Mihaela Dinca-Panaitescu

The project is particularly timely because of Canada’s recent ratification of the UN CRPD, which advances recognition of all people with disabilities, including indigenous peoples, as full citizens, with equal rights to other Canadians. Missing from the equation to develop the CRPD were the voices of world’s population of indigenous peoples with disabilities and as a result, this group, says Rioux, has little awareness of the CRPD and how to use the convention to make their rights a reality.

“First Nations peoples with various types of disabilities and living in urban areas or on reserves will benefit from the training opportunities offered by this project,” says Dinca-Panaitescu. “There is an acute lack of information about the human rights situation of people living on reserve as they are consistently excluded from most social surveys. In this context, the project will offer valuable opportunities for participants living on reserve to give voice to their experiences and build capacity to advocate about their situation in the broader community.”

This project advances York University’s vision and potential to become a leader on indigenous disability rights research. York is already a leader on disability rights research with its Graduate Program in Critical Disability Studies and two high profile international and national projects on disability rights monitoring that are part of DRPI.

For more information, contact Rioux or Dinca-Panaitescu, or visit the DRPI website.

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor