Disabilities Initiative Program

The Southern Chiefs Organization’s new Disabilities Initiative Program was created in response to the gaps and barriers that exist within the 33 southern First Nations in accessing disability services.

Over the years and across Canada, disability services have been readily available to people living in urban centres and outreach is often provided by the provincial programs to those in rural areas.  People living within their First Nation communities, however, have not qualified for such outreach, simply because they reside on federal land.  It is thought that due to the jurisdictional borders, disability and complex medical services should be the financial responsibility of the federal government to provide. These vital services, somehow, have not been part of the federal budget and are therefore limited or non-existent within First Nation communities.

In some situations, under Jordan’s Principle, individual cases could be looked at for resolution of who would provide medical services and costs associated. Unfortunately, this process is limited to children ages 0-17 under the principle, and in some cases resolution is not found. Too often, First Nation individuals and families are left with the unjust options of: Moving away from their home communities to seek the disability/medical supports they require; Parents placing their disabled or medically fragile child into the provincial foster care system so that the child will then have access to the provincially funded programs; or, remain intact in their community where they will potentially go without disability services for the duration of their life.

With these obstacles identified, the Disabilities Initiative Program goals are to promote and advocate for equitable access to health and social supports for First Nations people living with disabilities, for both children and adults alike. Through engagement with the communities, leadership and health professionals, the Disability Coordinator’s role is to develop a strategic plan to address the disability-related issues and concerns of our community members, and work towards bridging the gaps.  To aid in the process, the program objectives include assessment and evaluation of demographics and what services currently exist, to determine the resources that are still needed within the communities. Such services may include, but are not limited to: in-community health assessments, medical therapies, disability-specific supports and workshops, respite services, and social programs. Not only will the Initiative assist with acquiring additional health resources, but also work towards creating culturally appropriate and disability-based social activities that promote personal wellbeing for those living with disabilities.

At the roots of the Disabilities program are the community members who live with a disability or are the caregivers of a loved one with disabilities, that we strive to represent.  Certainly, nobody knows the needs of families affected better than the families themselves, so it is through continual engagement with our people that we seek hearing their personal stories. These are the voices of strength, knowledge and perseverance from which we can learn.  These voices will resonate, and ultimately ensure the most positive outcomes and quality of life for First Nations people with disabilities are being met, and they will continue to be the heart of the Disabilities Initiative Program at SCO.


Meet the Disabilities Initiative Program Coordinator: Joni Wilson

joni-wilsonMy name is Joni Wilson and I recently started at Southern Chiefs’ Organization as the Disabilities Initiative Program Coordinator.

After many years of working in the administration area of health & social services, and providing advocacy for children and families with complex medical conditions through my charitable efforts, I am very excited to jump into the Disabilities Initiative Coordinator position with both feet.  Along with my work & volunteer background, I am a parent of two children – one being a 14-year-old who lives with both congenital and acquired medical conditions and disabilities.

While living in our First Nation community, my son fell under “Jordan’s Principle”, due to our own complex needs.  Unfortunately, our case went unresolved as a result of jurisdictional and funding disputes.  I have since been an active advocate on behalf of First Nations people with disabilities, addressing the barriers and inequalities that exist.  From the round-table conversations and speaking engagements that I have taken part in, I have been fortunate to have established some great working relationships with heads of departments such as Health Canada, INAC and with various disability-based programs. It is with this background that I hope to utilize my skills, knowledge, networks, and personal experience towards this new Disabilities Initiative, working directly with communities towards equality for our First Nations people living with disabilities.

For more information on the Disabilities Initiative Program please call Joni @ 204-806-4534 or email her @ joni.wilson@scoinc.mb.ca