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Justice for Joyce

Image Courtesy of CBC

Joyce Echaquan. 37 years old. Mother of seven. Wife. Atikamekw woman. 

On September 26th, 2020, Joyce Echaquan entered the Lanaudière Hospital in Joliette, Quebec, complaining of stomach pains. A few days later, on the 28th, she went live on Facebook in a 7-minute stream titled “JoyceCarol Dube” where she can be heard saying, “Venez m’aider, ils me droguent (Please help, they’re drugging me)” amongst unintelligible yelling (Radio Canada, 2020). Pamela Dubé Ketish, Echaquan’s cousin, explained that Joyce suffered from cardiac problems but the hospital had given her morphine. She was not supposed to be on morphine and passed away a few hours later.

What sparked discussion was what else could be heard on that stream. The nurses taking care of Joyce could be heard calling her “stupid”, telling her to make better life decisions, swearing, and sexualizing her (Feith, 2020). 

Echaquan’s death sparked outrage across Canada as health care systems were forced to reevaluate their treatment of Indigenous patients and the government of the Indigenous population as a whole. The Manawan Atikamekw council has since dubbed the death as "clearly demonstrat[ing] racism against First Nations", which led Premier Legault to fire the nurse and claim that Canadians “must fight this racism” (BBC, 2020).

While Legault claimed that this incident does not speak to the systemic racism Indigenous citizens face in Quebec, that is not at all in line with a 488-page report created by the Viens commission in 2019 that explores the treatment of Indigenous people in governmental public services. The report describes racism as “prevalent” to the point where Indigenous people will avoid the hospital.

Cheryllee Bourgeois, a Métis midwife, confirms this view. When she speaks with others about Echaquan’s death, people will often respond with “Yeah, my family actually had an incident like that X number of years ago” (Francis, 2020). There’s no use in denying that the established health-care system is riddled with systemic racism and has been “failing” Indigenous people for years.

So what’s next?

As Lorraine Whitman, the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said to the CTV, “Only when governments recognize the harms that are being perpetrated against Indigenous people, take steps to correct them, and make the necessary reparations, will repugnant incidents like the one endured by Joyce Echaquan be prevented.”

Organizations, politics, and individuals have been calling for justice for years and this is any ally’s chance to amplify their voices and made them heard.

This begins with the call to action on the the Viens Comission which demands not only an apology from the Canadian government but also health services specific to Indigenous people and culturally sensitive training, spaces, and practices (Gilmore, 2020). This can be pressured through signing petitions such as this one and emailing MPPs. Pressure, in this case, is essential

In the following article, we learn that racial bias against black patients can be very detrimental to the patients health. Attribution to African Americans not only stops them from getting the proper treatment they need but also enforces harmful stereotypes.

Check out this R2AC article on Racial bias against black patients in Healthcare!

“Systemic racism robs people of their dignity and kills them. The time for rhetoric is over," said NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. And he’s right. 

A few days ago was orange shirt day. If you wore an orange shirt, great. Now do more. Amplify their voices and use their own. Lift up your Indigenous friends, donate to charities and fundraisers, protest, educate yourself and others. This has gone on for far too long.


Radio Canada. (2020, September 28). Une femme autochtone meurt à l'hôpital de Joliette dans des circonstances troubles. Retrieved from https://ici.radio-canada.ca/espaces-autochtones/1737180/femme-atikamekw-hopital-joliette-video-facebook

Feith, J. (2020, September 30). Indigenous woman records slurs by hospital staff before her death. Retrieved from https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/indigenous-woman-who-died-at-joliette-hospital-had-recorded-staffs-racist-comments

BBC. (2020, September 30). Joyce Echaquan: Outcry in Canada over treatment of dying indigenous woman. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54350027

Francis, A. (2020, October 1). ‘This treatment is not unique to Joyce’: Indigenous medical workers say Joyce Echaquan’s death is the latest tragic symptom of a longstanding health-care crisis. Retrieved 2020, from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/10/01/this-treatment-is-not-unique-to-joyce-indigenous-medical-workers-say-joyce-echaquans-death-is-the-latest-tragic-symptom-of-a-longstanding-health-care-crisis.html

Gilmore, R. (2020, October 1). Groups call for action after dying Atikamekw woman subjected to 'the worst form of racism'. Retrieved October, 2020, from https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/groups-call-for-action-after-dying-atikamekw-woman-subjected-to-the-worst-form-of-racism-1.5128941

Article Author : Linda Duong

Article Editors : Edie Whittington, Maria Giroux