Focus: ARCH Celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day – Highlights Work of BCANDS

The Board and Staff of ARCH Disability Law Centre recognize that our work takes place on traditional Indigenous territories across Ontario, which have been home to Indigenous peoples since time immemorial. We further recognize that the land on which our office is located is a sacred gathering place of the many Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. We are grateful to have the opportunity to meet and work on this territory. We are also mindful of broken covenants and the need to strive for justice for all persons. We heed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action.

To mark National Indigenous Peoples Day, ARCH is highlighting the work of our community partner organization, British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS). On Monday, June 18, 2018 ARCH Staff Lawyer, Kerri Joffe, spoke with BCANDS Executive Director, Neil Belanger, about BCANDS work and the results of their recent federally funded consultation with Indigenous communities on the forthcoming federal accessibility legislation.

KJ: Tell us about BCANDS and the services you provide.

NB: The British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society or BCANDS, is an award winning, Indigenous disability, not-for-profit organization, incorporated in 1991. BCANDS is the only Indigenous organization of its type in Canada and enjoys Special Consultative Status with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council. BCANDS provides disability related services to Indigenous (First Nation, Métis and Inuit) individuals and families residing within Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous communities. BCANDS has won a number of awards for our work. 

Our Mission is: “Advancing the unique disability and health priorities of Indigenous persons through collaboration, consultation, and the delivery of comprehensive client services.”

BCANDS provides a number of services to assist individuals and families living with a disability(s), within both First Nations and non-First Nations communities. For example, we provide Indigenous Disability Case Management and Navigation Services, Indigenous Registered Disability Savings Plan Navigator Program, and we are hosting “From the Outside Looking In…”, an Indigenous Disability and Wellness Gathering in Victoria, BC. The gathering will bring together a diverse representation of disability and health related stakeholders over a three-day period to learn, inform, share, collaborate and create new and expanded partnerships to assist in addressing the barriers facing Indigenous individuals and families living with a disability. For more information go to: 

KJ: What are some of the key issues facing Indigenous persons with disabilities in Canada?

NB: Indigenous persons living with a disability(s) and their families are often faced with limited assistance when seeking appropriate and necessary supports regarding their specific disability related need(s). Further, they are additionally challenged by other unique barriers not experienced by the non-Indigenous population who live with a disability. The frequency of disabilities among Indigenous Canadians is conservatively estimated at twice that of the national rate or approximately 30%. Other research has suggested that the overall disability rates for Indigenous peoples is up to 3 times higher than the national rate within some age groups. 

The issues/ barriers facing Indigenous people living with a disability(s) are many and include, but are not limited to:

  • Racial Discrimination – racial discrimination impacts the ability and willingness of Indigenous people living with a disability(s) to access necessary services and supports, leaving them underserved and their health and disability needs unmet;
  • Priority – Indigenous disability is often not afforded the same priority as other areas, leaving many communities / organizations acting in a reactive manner rather than pro-active. Indigenous disability is often not considered within the larger disability community, creating a marginalized population within an already marginalized population;  
  • Poverty – Indigenous peoples / Indigenous persons living with disabilities often live in poverty. In 2016 it was reported that 80% of First Nations in Canada have median incomes below the poverty line. This contributes to the amplification of disability and health conditions;
  • Provincial / Federal Jurisdiction issues – Lack of coordination between federal, provincial and territorial government in relation to areas of responsibility;
  • Limited access to necessary disability supports / services within community or in close proximity to community;
  • Transportation – limited access to affordable, accessible and reliable transportation, particularly in rural and remote communities;
  • Accessible communities / housing are priorities both within and external of Indigenous communities. Limited stock of affordable, accessible, safe housing presents significant challenges for many Indigenous persons living with a disability(s);
  • Violence and abuse towards Indigenous persons living with disabilities / Indigenous women with disabilities with little available support that incorporates / understands a cultural lens or that addresses their specific needs.

KJ: The Government of Canada is set to introduce federal accessibility legislation. How has BCANDS been involved in shaping the conversation about the scope of this new legislation?

NB: BCANDS was contracted to engage First Nation communities across Canada in relation to the identification of barriers facing First Nation communities and their membership. As part of the process BCANDS also engaged Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) (formerly Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) and First Nations and Inuit Health (now under ISC) employees to gain their perspective of current barriers and priorities areas.  The engagement process saw BCANDS contact communities directly, through surveys and through participation at various Indigenous events across Canada. The information gained confirmed many of the barriers that BCANDS clients had already identified / experienced and continue to deal with.  BCANDS is continuing to engage First Nations in 2018 in relation to the legislation once tabled, and is also working in partnership with the FALA (Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance) project, of which ARCH is also a member agency. 

KJ: Are you hopeful that the new federal accessibility legislation will address some of the significant issues facing Indigenous persons with disabilities in Canada?

NB: Yes and no. We are always hopeful for positive change, however the barriers facing individuals and families living with disabilities within Canada’s First Nations communities are often significant. The Government of Canada has introduced a number of steps such as the Indigenous Housing Strategy, Poverty Reduction Strategy, CRA – Disability Advisory Committee, Reconciliation, a new Ministers Committee to examine First Nation policy and procedures, the water strategy, etc. All of these should complement the new legislation and have the potential to positively impact communities and their membership living with disabilities.  However, without proper resourcing, today and in the future, the legislation’s tangible impact on existing barriers will be limited. 

KJ: How is BCANDS celebrating or acknowledging National Indigenous Peoples Day this year?

NB: The BCANDS office is closed on June 21 each year to provide the BCANDS team the opportunity to participate in Indigenous Peoples Day activities in their own communities or elsewhere. BCANDS promotes the day through social media and working with non-Indigenous organizations to have them do something to recognize the day. Since 2015, BCANDS focus has been its “Indigenous Disability Awareness Month” initiative or IDAM. IDAM is the only Indigenous disability specific recognition implemented anywhere in the world, and is recognized every November by those participating. In 2015, the province of British Columbia, the BC First Nation Summit and the Metis Nation BC were the first to officially recognize the month. In 2016, the province of Saskatchewan, the Assembly of First Nations and Yukon Council of First Nations all declared the month. BCANDS is continuing to work with provinces and territories across Canada and internationally to have the month officially recognized. In 2017 the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recommended to Canada as part of its review of Canada’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that the month be proclaimed and recognized annually by the federal government.  

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