Community gathers in Joliette, Quebec to remember Joyce Echaquan

Three years after her death, province hasn’t acknowledged systemic racism exists.

A small crowd gathered in front of the Native Friendship Centre in Joliette, Que, to commemorate the third anniversary of Joyce Echaquan’s death.

Members of the Atikamekw community, advocates and Indigenous leaders marched toward the Joliette hospital where she died, as echoes calling for justice reverberated through the streets, just like it did three years ago.

Echaquan, an Atikamekw mother of seven, died shortly after live-streaming the racist remarks coming from her caretakers at the hospital.

“Today, we wanted to give ourselves a moment of pause, a moment to reflect on Joyce, on the woman she was. What she left us as a legacy and the hole she left in her community because people are still living with the repercussions of her death,” Jennifer Petiquay-Dufresne, the executive director of the Office of Joyce’s Principle, said.

Echaquan’s legacy includes Joyce’s Principle, which aims to guarantee to all Indigenous people the right to equitable treatment in Quebec’s health care system.

Sipi Flamand, chief of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, said that some gradual progress has been made since Echaquan’s death on Sept. 28, 2020 but emphasized that much more work is still needed

“In relation to the hospital, a reconciliation committee was set up to discuss how to improve care. How we can restore the community’s trust in the Joliette hospital. But again, the issue with the Quebec government is the lack of recognition of systemic racism,” the chief said.

As such, the Quebec government has not adopted Joyce’s Principle, unlike a number of professional medical orders and organizations in the province. It hasn’t acknowledged that systemic racism exists in the province either.

“According to members of my community, it’s worrying to have to go to an institution where a situation has taken place, such as the death of Joyce Echaquan,” Flamand noted.

The chief added that the Joliette hospital, the closest one to the Atikamekw community of Manawan, where Echaquan was from, must continue working towards building trust.

Gisèle Flamand, who is from Manawan but lives in Montreal and attended the march, said that watching Echaquan’s livestream was very painful and heartbreaking.

“The impact is still there. It will always be there if we don’t move forward. If we don’t join hands with non-Indigenous people. That’s what we have to do. We have to walk together to make it right,” she said.

Quebec’s Indigenous Affairs minister, Ian Lafrenière, attended the march but did not speak.

For Marjolaine Étienne, the president of the Quebec Native Women Association, it was important to be present at the commemoration to honour Echaquan.

“On this tragic day, we ensure that we remember what happened to Mrs. Joyce. However, it’s also a time for us to come together and engage in conversation,” Étienne said.

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