Joyce Echaquan’s death mirrors Inuit experience seeking health care: Makivik

“Our governments are not dealing with the poison that is still killing Indigenous citizens”

Inuulitsivik health centre in Puvirnituq. Makivik Corp. says the tragic death of Joyce Echaquan at a hospital in Joliette is a reminder of the way so many Indigenous people are treated in the health care system. (File photo)

By Sarah Rogers

The organization representing Nunavik Inuit is publicly denouncing the treatment of a dying Atikamekw woman in a Quebec hospital earlier this week, saying it’s the same kind of racism many Inuit face in the health care system.

On Sept. 28, 37-year-old Joyce Echaquan was admitted to hospital in Joliette with severe stomach pain. The Atikamekw woman started livestreaming her exchange with two nurses, who were heard ignoring her requests and using racist slurs towards Echaquan shortly before she died.

The incident has triggered a coroner’s inquest and a public outcry about how Indigenous people are treated in the health care system.

For Inuit in Nunavik, the incident mirrors their own experiences seeking health care, said Makivik Corp. President Charlie Watt.

“Inuit are sometimes afraid to go to a hospital for treatment fearing harassment by health care providers,” Watt said in a news release on Friday, Oct. 2.

“The gap between [Indigenous and non-Indigenous people] is growing, and we have to stop it before it goes completely out of control.”

The death of Echaquan comes exactly a year after the release of the Viens Commission’s final report, which documented extensive testimony from Inuit and other Indigenous groups across Quebec about discrimination they faced in the province’s health care system and with other public services.

Watt said this and other examples of discrimination that Indigenous groups face in Quebec do not bode well for Makivik’s own current negotiations with both the federal and provincial governments towards a self-determination agreement for Nunavik.

“We need to get to the core of systemic racism and the colonist rule that has dominated Canada for hundreds of years,” Watt said. “Our governments are not dealing with the poison that is still killing Indigenous citizens.”

Quebec Premier François Legault has acknowledged there is racism in Quebec but does not believe it is systemic.

To better address issues of discrimination facing Indigenous and other racialized groups in the province, Legault set up an anti-racism task force earlier this year to consult with those communities and draft a report of its findings, with recommendations.

The task force says it’s on track to deliver on that report this year, but has yet to meet with any Inuit organizations.

Task force member Denis Lamothe said he’s extended an invitation to Makivik Corp. to meet its members.

But a spokesperson for Watt’s office said on Oct. 2 that the organization has yet to hear from the task force.

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Not Just Nunavik on

    It’s not just Nunavik. It’s happening in Iqaluit as well. I had to fly myself south to get help. I was ignored in agonizing pain unless a white person accompanied me to emerg.

    • Posted by Dr. No on

      Yes, I’ve seeen it in Iqaluit, too.
      Not every healthcare worker in Iqaluit treats Inuit badly, but many do. If there are any consequensesfor those who mistreat Inuit, we never see or hear of it. Also, we don’t see other healthcare workers stepping in when Inuit are being mistreated. It’s the three monkeys – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

  2. Posted by Mary on

    I hope someone will hear it too from the racism

  3. Posted by Terrible on

    This is the upmost terrible racism. Now as Charlie watt is still hinting at self governance, he must get on board, and get other leaders on board to deal with the reasons why self governance is not going to happen soon. Get real with child abuse. Alcohol issues. The drunk driving. The number of assaults that fill the jails. Get kids interested in education. Get real teachers to teach our kids at the local level. Get people to show up for work in the morning. Get delinquent kids off the roads at night. Hey, it’s not rocket science, it’s common sense. Self government is not going to happen with these issues that are getting worse as time goes. Inuit will continue to suffer in the name of nothing being done by leadership to paved a healthy road.

  4. Posted by Tell the whole truth on

    Makivik hides in not saying that there is also racism spread in the north, at some degree, towards its minorities and metis- inuits. Before making a scandal, look at yourself in the mirror first.

  5. Posted by Status quo on

    Racism is real , just about everywhere. Nunavik has lots coming from Inuit towards non Inuit. And from non Inuit towards Inuit. The worse kind of racism is from people of the same race towards their own people. Inuit are famous for that in my view. It’s exist where people exist. But there’s no excuse to accept it or endure being victims. We must stand up against it. This self government of Nunavik will suppress both Inuit and non Inuit into more racism. Leaders of Nunavik have historically kept the buck to a very few. My confidence in our provincial and federal government is they won’t allow Inuit this self government. They know already the dire consequences. Self government will not happen in a neighborhood near you anytime soon. Thank the lord .

    • Posted by Tulugaq on

      That’s what colonialism does, divide to conquer, and Indigenous people that are in self government are in a much better position to also be self confident and work for their future, not to get rid of colonialism. Inuit of Nunavik have a treaty, the JBNQA, and if self government has not yet materialized it’s mostly because governments do not negotiate in good faith and want to limit self government to municipal powers.

      • Posted by Municipal powers on

        Unlike the Cree in James bay, who have control of their reserves, Inuit of Nunavik have municipalities. If you see how a place like kuujjuaq is growing with large influx of people moving in from the southern Quebec region, who can vote in a municipal election-after being living in the region for a period of time, it’s only a matter of time before the Inuit will lost more power, when the mayor of kuujjuaq is one of the influxee of southerners. That would undermined Inuit culture and traditions, putting the beginning of the end to Inuit power all together. Now , if that’s not a big blunder in the signing of the treaty, tell me what is. James bay, northern Quebec?

  6. Posted by Tulugaq on

    Systemic racism against Indigenous people is well documented in Canada and Quebec by many inquiries, the last being the Viens Commission that clearly denounces it. The Commission cost millions of dollars but the Legault government ignored its recommendations and turned its back to Indigenous people, like many other colonial governments before.

    Many witnesses who appeared before the Commission told horror stories of encounters by Inuit, First Nation and Métis people with the Quebec bureaucracy, including health workers, education, justice, police and corrections personnel. Systemic racism means that the bureaucratic structure, laws, regulations, guidelines etc discriminate agains Indigenous people. The Indian Act is the most obvious example and modern treaties in many cases when they insisted that Indigenous people wave and surrender their Indigenous rights and title to land to governments.

    When the state is the author of systemic racism, it’s not surprising that public workers are tainted by it and some would show such horrible behaviour as can be seen just before Joyce Echaquan’s passing. This is Canadian colonialism at its worst.

    • Posted by Yes Tulugaq on

      Yes Tulugaq, you have to join them to beat them. There’s so much opportunity for Inuit to be the health care workers, to be the justice and the police, to be the educated. It’s only by being the all that’s in a persons society will the people be what they can be fully successful. It’s time to stop the wining and complaining, the blaming and take hold of the present opportunities to make the future. Inuit have so much opportunity, even in the midst of all that was done so wrong to Inuit. Take charge now. Make the next generation of Inuit in control of Inuit.

  7. Posted by It’s what you do with it all on

    It’s not what was done to you, but what you do about what was done to you. No one is going to fix anything for Inuit. You can go on forever, feeling sorry and defeated by terrible behaviours. But until you do something about it, you will never get out of it. Asking for sympathy, apology, compensation, on and on, will do nothing for healing. It’s you making your life better by your own making. No one will do it for you, except you. It’s been a terrible era for Inuit. For those who caused the terrible injustices, they will only make more injustice. Inuit must stand up and go forward .

  8. Posted by Simon on

    It happen not only in Nunavik also happen here in Taloyoak. We brought our late daughter (5) five times send home five times got send south . When I was with her she died in the hospital.

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