Joyce Echaquan's death is now the subject of two investigations.
Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman and mother of 7, was hospitalized after experiencing stomach pains. Echaquan’s oldest daughter is 19 while her youngest son is only seven months old. According to the Montreal Gazette , she began recording a Facebook Live video that seemed to show her being insulted and sworn at by hospital staff. In the seven-minute video, two women are heard calling Echaquan stupid, saying she’s only good for sex and that she would be better off dead. They also questioned her life choices and one of them could be heard saying, "And who do you think is paying for this?"
On Facebook Live, she also said that she was being overmedicated. Her family said that she had long suffered from heart issues and is believed to have had an adverse reaction to morphine on Monday. The video viewed by CBC News is distressing where the 37-year-old can be heard screaming calling for help. The voices of staff members can be heard at one point. One hospital staff member tells her, "You're stupid as hell." Another is heard asking her what her children would say if they saw her in that state.
Now her death is being investigated by Quebec’s coroner’s office. The local health authority is also looking into what happened inside the hospital room, and one of the nurses involved has already been dismissed. Premier François Legault called what happened in the video "totally unacceptable." While many believe that systemic racism had a part to play in the situation Legault said, "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, referring to an anti-racism committee he set up this summer. Mary Hannaburg, vice-president of Quebec Native Women, said the video is a "very hard thing to hear and to listen to." "The statements that are made are not going to be tolerated. Those are of a racist nature," she said. "We will not tolerate racism in any given form toward Indigenous women."
Viens commission had put forth a three-year inquiry into the way Indigenous Peoples are treated by public services in the province, and in its 488-page report concluded that racism and prejudice against Indigenous people on behalf of hospital staff "remain prevalent." Echaquan’s cousin, Karine Echaquan, said the mother of 7 was often hospitalized because of her heart condition and that discrimination was nothing new. She would often record Facebook live videos from her bed, her cousin said. "I think it was a sort of protection for her," she said. "She was always suspicious of public health. She was a very, very strong woman," Karine continued. "It’s horrible. Even when I went to sleep, I could still hear her screams in my mind. We just want equality," she said. "Whether you’re an Indigenous person or whatever your background or skin color is, we all need to hold hands and move in the same direction, together."
The Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation Council, Constant Awashish, asked that the government step in and act quickly. "It is unfortunate that in 2020 such behavior may still be occurring," Awashish said in a statement. "It is everyone’s responsibility to denounce it," he added, "especially in the context of health services, whose ethics should protect us from the discomfort of racism." There were multiple vigils held for Echaquan on Tuesday evening. Isabelle Newashish, who knew Echaquan, was one of the many attending the vigil in front of the Joliette hospital, around 70 kilometers north of Montreal. "We're here for Joyce," she said. "When is it going to end?"
A spokesperson for Sylvie D'Amours, Quebec's minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, said there will two investigations surrounding her death: the coroner's investigation, as well as a separate investigation by the local health authority. Whatever they find, as a result, the spokesperson said, "the words heard are unacceptable and intolerable."
A GoFundMe fundraiser has been launched for the family.
COVER IMAGE SOURCE: YouTube/ Montreal Gazette