Indigenous disability-rights activist brings inspirational story to Thompson

Frances Mae Sinclair-Kaspick talks about her self-published memoir The Mountain Within in front of a local audience

The University of Manitoba’s Northern Social Work Program celebrated social work week by hosting a talk with author Frances Mae Sinclair-Kaspick at the Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre March 20. 

Sinclair-Kaspick spent the morning reading passages from, and answering questions about, her self-published memoir The Mountain Within, which details her life as a congenital amputee and the struggles she encountered along the way because of this.

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In the opening chapters of her book, Sinclair-Kaspick’s reveals the complications surrounding her birth in a Kenora, Ontario hospital in 1956. Not only was she missing both her hands, but her legs were also abnormally small, so much so that it compromised her ability to walk.

Even though the doctors doubted her chances of accomplishing anything in life, Sinclair-Kaspick’s grandmother decided to move the family to Winnipeg so that she could receive care from the Shriners Hospital that specialized in children with disabilities.

Despite having good memories of living at this facility for most of her youth, Sinclair-Kaspick encountered another major obstacle at the age of 15 when she decided to voluntarily amputate her feet.

“Even though I made this decision of amputation, I did not feel like I made the right choice at that time,” she said on Wednesday. “It took me a long time to get over that trauma.” 

From there, Sinclair-Kaspick tried to carve out a normal life for herself, graduating from high school at 18, entering the workforce and finally getting the opportunity to live independently at 22.

“By the time I got into my early 20s, I already knew psychologically and emotionally that I made it, that I’m going to continue on living life,” she said. “And I thought ‘I should really write a book’ because it’s a very challenging story and I would like to inspire other people.”

Even though it took a while before this idea came to fruition, Sinclair-Kaspick finally finished this project last year, holding a book launch in Winnipeg in December.

The memoir itself covers other snapshots from Sinclair-Kaspick’s childhood and early adult life, including Christmases at the Shriners Hospital, travelling across winter roads in a manual wheelchair and making her own fashionable clothing as a teenager. 

As a member of Peguis First Nation, Sinclair-Kaspick also describes this book as a “form of communication” to bring more awareness to the unique struggles faced by Indigenous people with disabilities. 

“For too long Indigenous people living with disabilities have been unacknowledged and under-represented,” she said on March 20. “So I highlighted our achievements to make a positive difference by showing how to move forward to better our lives.”

Even though she’s been instrumental in creating resources like the Aboriginal Disabled Self-Help Group, Sinclair-Kaspick said she’s going to use her retirement years to reach out to other disability organizations in the hopes of breaking down barriers for Indigenous languages and cultural practices. 

She’s also going to start working on a new book sometime in May. 

While she hasn’t nailed down the specifics of what this new work is going to be about, the 63-year-old author said she wants to expand on subjects like dating and how to hang onto your job as a person with disabilities.

Otherwise, Sinclair-Kaspick said she’s going to use her new platform as a published author to continue to preach empowerment and self-acceptance. 

“It is beyond our control how we come into the world, and even more so what body we arrive in,” she said on March 20. “Through my early years I steadily and diligently worked within myself to accept the body I received at birth, and to accept all of me and not feel diminished as a person. I’m proud I was able to do just that and I’m fine with who I am.”

Anyone interested in reading The Mountain Within in full can order a copy through mcnallyrobinson.com.  

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