By Sophia Rottman
On September 28 at a Quebec hospital, Joyce Echaquan, a member of the Atikamekw community of Manawan, died shortly after the nurses responsible for her care unleashed a slew of demeaning insults upon her. Before her death, she filmed and posted a video to her Facebook. The verbal abuse can be heard along with Echaquan in obvious distress and asking for help. Her death is an appalling reminder of the systemic racism Indigenous peoples face within the Canadian healthcare system.
The premier of Quebec, Francois Legault, called the situation “unacceptable” and said that “the Quebec public service has failed in its duty to Madame Echaquan.” He recognized the racism Indigenous peoples face, however, he has consistently stated that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec. Echaquan’s death occurred two days prior to a full year passing after a public inquiry, (the Viens Commission), stated 142 recommendations for improving access to government services for Indigenous peoples in Quebec. This inquiry included multiple judgements related to the healthcare system. However, many Indigenous leaders and advocates say that not enough change has come from these suggestions.
Multiple investigations have started into her death and a nurse and orderly that were involved have been fired from the hospital. Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller announced that plans have begun for a meeting of federal ministers and Indigenous leaders to discuss racism within the Canadian healthcare system. The meeting will include Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Benett, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Indigenous health care officials and provincial and federal health care organizations; it is set to happen virtually on October 16.
Vigils and demonstrations have been held since to commemorate Joyce Echaquan, in addition to statements from leaders such as Justin Trudeau. Indigenous leaders are calling for more action to be taken in relation to the systemic racism faced by Indigenous peoples rather than just talk and apologies, such as Atikamekw Nation’s Grand Chief Constant Awashish. After speaking to reporters about the apologies, Awashish said, “Now we need action.”