A new Indigenous health centre has opened in Montreal, prompted, in part, by the controversial death of Joyce Echequan.
Michelle Reis-Amores, executive director of Tiotihtià:ke (Mohawk for Montreal), said the project was a long time in coming.
“There has been this dream to provide services that are specifically Indigenous to the Indigenous urban community in Montreal,” Reis-Amores said during an interview.
“We have one doctor that is providing support on Wednesday in the morning. It is very limited. However, we are working towards increasing those services.”
The ultimate goal is for the clinic to open Monday to Friday, with multiple Indigenous doctors offering their medical expertise, said Reis-Amores.
The urgent care clinic is located on the second floor of the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex in Montreal’s West End, and will offer a wide range of medical and mental health services.
“We are also establishing an elders’ council so that there are knowledge keepers and elders that are going to support us in doing the work and being available for Indigenous people to come and speak to,” said Reis-Amores.
For years, advocates have pushed for an Indigenous health centre in Montreal, and those calls intensified after the death of Echaquan – an Atikamekw mother of seven who died Sept. 28, 2020, shortly after live-streaming racist remarks from her caretakers at a Joliette Hospital.
Lynn Pathwalker-Bourque serves as the health navigator at the clinic – someone who helps patients through the complexities and bureaucracy of the health care system.
“Regarding what happened to Joyce Echaquan, it really pushed the need (for an Indigenous health centre),” Pathwalker-Bourque said.
“She was a catapult for things to finally happen and unblock, and that is when the government woke up. It’s a human right to have access to health care and wellness.”
Pathwalker-Bourque said the clinic has already received hundreds of calls from people wanting to consult a doctor.
“There are definitely people who are relieved. Like finally, there’s a place for us.”
Elder Mike Standup, who lives in Montreal and attended the opening, said Indigenous people are apprehensive about the health care system because of discrimination and racism.
“It gives them options to let them know that there is a place where their needs will be respected,” he said. “Primarily elders and traditional people will be taking part and assisting the people for their health needs.”