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Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/PAUL CHIASSON
Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/PAUL CHIASSON

The case of Joyce Echaquan and the fight for Indigenous rights in Canada and beyond

The Atikamekw woman recorded her last moments on Earth, which included racial slurs being directed at her from nurses.

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Joyce Echaquan’s husband, Carol Dube, told Radio-Canada that his estranged wife went to the hospital with a stomach ache. She died two days later. 

But before Echaquan passed, she managed to get on her phone, go on Facebook Live, and record the last moments of her life.

In the video, you can hear hospital staff taunting her while she let out desperate cries.

You can hear ‘helpers’ utter despicable slurs in French like: “You’re stupid as hell.” Another can be heard saying: “She’s good at screwing, more than anything else. And we’re paying for this.”

 

Echaquan’s tragedy has sparked a national outcry among Indigenous leaders and activists fighting for equal treatment and highlighting that it is not an isolated case, especially for indigenous women. 

In 2019, Canada’s government admitted it was complicit when it came to race-based genocide on indigenous women. A report from that year confirmed indigenous women were 12 times more likely to be murdered or disappear than other women in Canada. It also said it was a direct impact of the deep-rooted colonialism and an issue ignored by the state.

Echequan was the mother of seven children, and according to the CBC, a canadian newspaper, she will undergo an autopsy following her death. 

On Sept. 29, Quebec’s government announced the hospital staff will also be going under investigation for the incident. Echequan’s relatives also shared she had a history of heart problems, and that she expressed she was being given too much morphine. 

Additionally, a nurse involved in the case has already been dismissed. However, that is no consolidation for the family. 

“The statements that are made are not going to be tolerated. Those are of a racist nature. We will not tolerate racism in any given form toward Indigenous women," said Maru Hannaburg, the vice president of The Quebec Native Women. 

The Quebec Premier, Francois Legault, also commented on the situation, saying it was not acceptable, however denying that it was systemic racism in medicine. 

“I really don’t think that we have this kind of way of dealing with First Nations people in our hospitals in Quebec. Yes, there is some racism in Quebec. We’re working on that,” he said. 

Over the summer, Legault formed an anti-racism committee. 

Multiple indigenous leaders have also spoken about the reality of systemic racism that has and is ignored throughout the country. 

“This is the worst face of racism. This is someone who is at their most vulnerable. And they are dying, having heard racist words expressed towards them,” said Marc Miller, federal Indigenous services minister.

Quebec as a whole has been left in shock. The communities across the territory are calling for the country’s officials to address the reality of the ongoing systemic racism. 

Beyond Canada, the treatment of Indigenous peoples is an issue that rings true throughout the entire Western Hemisphere. Whether it be in Brazil, where deforestation threatens untouched Amazon tribes, along the U.S.-Mexico border, where a xenophobic wall destroys sacred Indigenous burial grounds, or in Canada, where that xenophobia infects medical treatment, Indigenous people are forgotten, mistreated and swept aside.

Joyce Echaquan’s death is just one manifestation of a dark history and present that has yet to be reckoned with.  

Back in Quebec, a vigil was held on Sept. 29 outside of Joliette hospital, where Echaquan died, and an online fundraising campaign was set up to help support the seven children she left behind.

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