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"It took a life for her to be treated that way": Inquest begins into the death of Joyce Echaquan

Last Updated May 12, 2021 at 7:46 pm EDT

MONTREAL (CityNews) – A coroner’s inquest begins Thursday into the death of Joyce Echaquan.

The 37-year-old Atikamekw mother, who filmed herself as she lay dying in a Joliette hospital bed – about 50 kilometers northeast of Montreal – as staff hurled racist slurs at her in September 2020.

Public hearings to help shed light and uncover the circumstances of her death have many demanding answers.

“It took a life for her to be treated that way. For Joyce to tell us that this is a problem this is an issue, and she exposed it. So I think we need to pay homage to her,” explained Mary Hannaburg, vice-president of Quebec Native Women.

“They’ll have to make sure this does not reoccur. We cannot keep having our people disposed of in that way. And this is what it is. It’s basically dehumanizing Indigenous women, and this is a systemic problem.”

“This is not the first inquiry into the mistreatment of our people. I want to believe there’s going to be a change. Experience has shown us that’s not the case,” said Tekonwankwenni Lynda Delisle, director of support services at Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre.

Premier Legault denounced Joyce’s treatment as unacceptable, however he consistently maintained there is no systemic racism in the province.

“It has shed light on systemic racism that exists. It shed light on the denial of systemic racism here in the province of Quebec,” added Hannaburg. “As an indigenous person, we are aware of it and the severity of the problem.”

“It scares other people. It scares elders. To see things like this and it might prevent people from accessing healthcare when they really need it and we can’t lose our people, our healers and our elders. They have to take care of themselves. They have to feel safe and knowing that they are well cared for,” explained Lynda Delis.

Experts say this will come if the failings of the system are addressed.

“There has to be a concrete change in terms of providing cultural safety for Indigenous patients in the healthcare system,” explained Richard Budgell, assistant professor of department of family medicine at McGill University. “Eliminating discrimination in the healthcare system. Ensuring greater presence of Indigenous people in the healthcare system.”

Indigenous leaders hope the recommendations from the inquest will echo Joyce’s principle.

Recommendations from the Atikamekw community to guarantee equal access to healthcare and assert the rights of Indigenous people in terms of health and social services, something the Quebec government has yet to adopt, because of its use of the term systemic racism.