Despite apologies and announcements, little has changed says Joyce Echaquan’s community


One year has come and gone since Joyce Echaquan hit record and livestreamed her dying moments at the Joliette hospital outside Montreal to Facebook while nursing staff taunted the Atikamekw mother of seven.

On the anniversary of her death, her community says despite apologies, announcements and investments, little has changed.

“They’ve appointed [a liaison] at the regional health authority, but when we talk to our community members – they still live with that fear,” says Constant Awashish, grand chief of the Council of the Atikamekw Nation. “They still feel they’re not listened to. And when you hear government representatives say they won’t acknowledge Joyce’s Principle when it’s so important for the community and the family.

“When you don’t listen, you’re giving First Nations the wrong message. The feeling of insecurity persists.”

A ceremony was held Tuesday marking the anniversary of her death with family visiting the hospital room where she died. They later took part in a ceremony in her honour with Atikamekw community members, politicians and other guests.

Some guests carried a red or pink rose as they entered a white tent erected behind the hospital. Others, some wearing ribbon skirts or sweatshirts bearing Echaquan’s picture, sat on folding chairs outside.

Awashish also told reporters he appreciates that Quebecers are more aware of systemic racism since Echaquan’s death, but he said the anniversary is a source of anxiety.

“It’s a confusing day for people,” he said. “We want something better for future generations and better treatment for First Nations in public services, but also there is this anxiety that Joyce Echaquan gave her life for no reason.”

“The feeling of anxiety is that we want the government to recognize the situation and call it by its real name,” he added, referring to the provincial government’s refusal to use the term systemic racism to describe inequalities in Quebec society.

In a statement, Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafreniere asked Quebecers to use the day to reflect on relations with First Nations and Inuit peoples and the fight against racism.

He said the Quebec government is working with Indigenous leaders to address measures proposed by the Atikamekw community after Echaquan’s death to ensure equitable access to health care for Indigenous patients.

Premier Francois Legault tweeted on Tuesday that what had happened to Echaquan was a “collective awakening to the discrimination still suffered by Indigenous Peoples.” He added: “Let’s continue to fight against these behaviours that have no place in our society.”

Echaquan’s home community of Manawan has announced plans to name a biodiversity reserve at Lac-Nemiscachingue in her honour, and the government says it intends to begin that renaming process. Her husband, Carol Dube, said in a statement that Echaquan’s memory must not fade and called on everyone to join their fight.

“The door she opened is too important, she cannot have died in vain,” he said. “We owe it to her to continue to fight to break down prejudices and tackle injustices.”

With files from the Canadian Press