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BURNABYCUPE BC’s persons with disabilities working group and aboriginal working group got 2008 off to a productive start with inspiring guest speeches at their respective first meetings of the new year.

The persons with disabilities working group benefited greatly from a talk presented on January 7 by CUPE 458 member Michelle Creedy, a casual worker who is blind. Creedy told the group how she has overcome barriers and challenges that she faces as a person with a visual disability, including the attitudes of co-workers and supervisors that are often a big part of the problem.

Creedy applauded CUPE’s initiatives in teaching joint union-management audiences about accommodation responsibilities. But she added that there is still a lot of work to do in getting employers to understand just how far they have to go. She also spoke eloquently about the fear and isolation that persons with disabilities can feel in the workplace, recalling one instance where a member of the public came into her workplace and refused to deal with her because she had a disability.

Members of the working group explored many ideas with Creedy as to how the union can better reach its membership and employers in their various workplaces, to ensure that they are sensitive to disability rights issues and aware of their legal obligations in this regard. Working group co-chair Carlene Keddie said the group came away from the meeting inspired by the possibilities.

“There was a lot of talk about the similar experiences we share in the workplace, and some good ideas about how to respond to the challenges,” said Keddie.

On January 8, the aboriginal working group (AWG) heard from Suzanne Phillips, the education program coordinator for “Healing Our Spirit”, about the importance of having a strategy to prevent and combat HIV/AIDS in the aboriginal community that respects aboriginal culture and traditions and takes a holistic view of healing. (For more information, visit www.healingourspirit.org).

Also at the AWG meeting was Arthur Manuel of the Secwepemc First Nation, an activist in the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade. Manuel, former chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, spoke with AWG members about the importance of understanding the need to resolve land claims without extinguishing aboriginal title.

Last year, Manuel was named “activist of the year” by the Council of Canadians in honour of his work at the domestic and international level. Lately he has been busy lobbying Washington politicians and functionaries at the World Trade Organization with respect to the economic rights of indigenous peoples.

“It was very empowering, to have guest speakers like Arthur and Susanne come to spend some time with us,” noted AWG chair John Thompson. “Their experiences are an inspiring reminder of how easy it is to make a difference if you put your mind to it.