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A group of female students in a discussion with Indigenous health leaders at a table.

Students meet with Audrey Henderson, Sagkeeng community health transformation liaison, at a retreat in April.

Students to bring vital service to First Nation adults with disabilities

May 25, 2023 — 

A group of occupational therapy students from the College of Rehabilitation Sciences, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences is developing a much-needed day program for adults with disabilities in Sagkeeng First Nation.

The program will be located in a new 10-unit housing complex developed in Sagkeeng as part of Kiga mamo anokimin onji minoayawin, a partnership between the college and 10 Manitoba First Nations Communities. Construction is set to begin on the building, which will open in 2024.

The program will run up to six days a week and will cater to adults aged 18 to 55 who have physical or cognitive disabilities. It will address a lack of programming for adults with disabilities in the community. Programs like Jordan’s Principle are available for youth, but when those individuals turn 18, they lose that support.

Margaret Hart, Ininiw scholar and instructor for the college’s occupational therapy program, is leading the project, which recently completed its preliminary stage of relationship-building.

“The programming will be culturally relevant and community-driven, honouring self-determination,” Hart said.

Five second-year master of occupational therapy students – Mila Panaskevich, Carly Lutzer, Mckyla Poponick, Paige Buss and Brooke Hilderman – started working on the project in September 2022.

In November, Hart and the students travelled to Sagkeeng to meet with Audrey Henderson, community health transformation liaison, as well as Elders and Knowledge Keepers to learn about the community, its needs and history.

“Our first visit included a tour of Sagkeeng which allowed the students to hear about the stories of the Fort Alexander residential school, providing the context of relational accountability and our purpose for reciprocity. It’s important to situate authenticity and truth in our stories as important first steps to relationship building. This sets the stage for where we’re going,” Hart said.

In April 2023 they met with Henderson at a retreat hosted by the college for the First Nation partnership program. There they learned about the disability population in the community to determine activities for the day program.

The students’ involvement is part of a community engagement project in their second year. They can express interest in working with one of 10 community partners, including some in Winnipeg and others in rural or First Nations communities. After viewing the options, students completed a survey where they ranked the projects according to their level of interest.

Panaskevich and Lutzer both said the project in Sagkeeng was their first choice, and a good chance to learn more about working with First Nations.

“This gives me an opportunity to understand First Nations culture, the connection to land, the connection to water, their traditions. Each First Nations community has its own traditions, so that had me interested,” Panaskevich said.

“We do learn a bit about Indigenous ways of knowing and being in class, but I really wanted to get that first-hand experience and go to a First Nation community because I had never done that before. Seeing it first-hand and getting that real life experience really put it into perspective more,” added Lutzer.

The activities they are planning may include gardening, cooking and drum-making, with an emphasis on learning about their Indigenous culture.

“Cultural safety and relational accountability are central to this collaboration,” Panaskevich said. “We are grateful to work alongside the community in order to make the day program personally and culturally meaningful for participants.”

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