Family and friends of Joyce Echaquan, who died in a Joliette hospital on Monday, are speaking out. The 37-year-old Indigenous woman from the Atikamekw Nation of Manawan passed away shortly after livestreaming how she was being treated by hospital staff.
In the video posted to social media, hospital staff can be heard swearing and berating the mother of seven who is clearly in distress.
“We are shocked and profoundly angry,” said Joyce’s cousin Reginald Echaquan.
The family says in the video, Joyce was speaking in the Atikamekw language, complaining of being overmedicated and in pain.
“She said ‘They’re giving me a lot of medication, come and get me, they’re giving me too much medication,” Reginald said.
Family friend Chantal Chartrand claims it wasn’t the first time Echaquan experienced racism when accessing medical services at the Joliette hospital and had grown fearful.
“It was a couple of times that she had experienced it,” Charland said.
“And she said herself, weeks before, ‘one day they’re going to kill me.'”
A nurse has since been fired over the incident, and three investigations — two by the regional health authority and one by the Quebec coroner’s office — have been launched.
“That is like a small plaster on a big wound. The firing of one nurse won’t fix anything,” Reginald said, adding the nurse wasn’t alone in the room at the time.
He also said there was no need for more investigations.
“We saw the video, we saw how she was and heard the fear in her voice, the panic and the cries for help,” he said.
Despite the pain of watching her final moments, Chartrand hopes the video will lead to change.
“In fact, we are happy that it was filmed,” she said. “Because it would be another case that it would be put on the shelf and we would forget about it.”
Dr. Stanley Vollant, an Innu surgeon from the Frist Nations community of Pessamit who works at Notre-Dame hospital in Montreal agreed the time for change is now.
“It’s so sad that it happened but at least we have footage, we have sound … there was racism and we should say no to racism within our health-care system.”
Vollant said he testified before the Viens Commission two years ago where he discussed the issue of systemic racism and the effects of systemic racism on health outcomes, including the possibility of complications and even death among Indigenous people in Quebec.
“It is the proof that it was possible,” he said of Echaquan’s death.
Vollant, like many others in Indigenous communities, is calling for action.
“Don’t do more commissions, please don’t do anything more,” he said. “We have already recommendations, we have to just go in action now.”
Vollant said the first step in fighting systemic racism is through education.
“My first recommendation is let’s start to train all the health-care workers to be culturally sensitive, competent,” he said.
“Also knowing the Indigenous way of life and history to have better encounters with first Nations peoples and to have better outcomes when we are treating first Nations people in Quebec, in Canada.”
For Reginald, that kind of understanding is long overdue.
“We want recognition — a recognition of what and who we are,” he said.
Chartrand has organized a GoFundMe campaign to help support Echaquan’s seven children who range in age from seven months to 21 years old.
–With files from Global’s Felicia Parrillo and Olivia O’Malley