Family of Joyce Echaquan reluctantly accepts medal of honour from Quebec government

The husband of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who in October 2020 livestreamed healthcare workers in a Joliette, Que., hospital taunting her as she lay dying, accepted a medal of honour on her behalf from the Quebec government.

Receiving recognition for her has become pretty standard for the family these days.

This time, Carol Dubé received a medal from François Paradis, president of the National Assembly in Quebec City.

“The courage of one of her final actions has shaken the conscience of an entire society, plunging us into a deep reflection,” said Paradis in French at the ceremony.

Echaquan’s family decided to accept this award despite the fact that they feel Quebec’s reflection hasn’t been all that deep.

The Atikamekw and other First Nations in Quebec have been pushing the province to adopt Joyce’s Principle.

While the province’s ruling party, the C.A.Q., has been open to implementing some parts of it – officials refuse to acknowledge one key point – the issue of systemic racism in Quebec.

“Halfways recognizing Joyce’s Principle is not enough,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the Quebec Solidaire Party who read a statement on the family’s behalf. “We must adopt it, bring it to life, give it the necessary resources so that our legacy, thanks to Joyce, is an unprecedented evolution in the relations between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples in Quebec.”

The community itself is dubious of the award handed out by the province.

“I welcome this in a positive manner, but you heard as well as I that the family wants actions on the part of the government in line with the reality that exists,” said Paul-Émile Ottawa, chief of the Manawan community where Joyce was from.

The province says announcements regarding Joyce’s Principle are forthcoming – but recognition of systemic racism in Quebec institutions is not on the table.

“If you ask me if Joyce’s Principle will be a part of the changes [to come], the answer is yes,” said Ian Lafreniére, the province’s minister of Indigenous Affairs. “We’ve already put into place several elements, and the next question to be asked is ‘Why haven’t you recognized Joyce’s Principle?’ You know, in terms of systemic racism. We don’t hide it.

“People might be disappointed, might be surprised, but we’ve said it from the first day, that term “systemic racism”, even though that we agree that there is racism, that we agree are racist people, that term [systemic racism] divides.”

While the official stance of the Quebec government may be that the term systemic racism is divisive, the Echaquan family looks to feel the same way about this medal – which some may consider more of a consolation prize than an honour.

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