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Quebec looks to improve health-care services for Indigenous patients after Joyce Echaquan’s death

Click to play video: 'Quebec invests to improve health-care services for Indigenous patients' Quebec invests to improve health-care services for Indigenous patients
The province is investing $15 million to improve access to health care for First Nations and Inuit people. The announcement comes just weeks after an Atikamekw woman recorded Joliette hospital staff insulting her moments before her death. Global’s Gloria Henriquez reports. – Nov 6, 2020

Quebec is putting forth $15 million to widen access to health-care services for Indigenous patients and provide cultural training to employees in the province’s medical network following the troubling death of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman, in a Joliette hospital.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière and Health Minister Christian Dubé unveiled the funding, which will be spread out over five years, on Friday as part of a larger initiative to address the recommendations outlined in the report from the Viens Commission, an inquiry that examined Quebec’s relations with Indigenous Peoples.

The report issued in September 2019 specifically outlines how members of Indigenous communities feel unsafe seeking medical treatment in the province’s health-care system. It proposed legislative changes to incorporate cultural safeguard principles.

“This isn’t going to change 150 years of history…and we are not telling you (rebuilding trust) won’t happen in a few weeks,” Lafrenière said. “But this is how we regain trust.”

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The plan comes after the Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman who was subjected to slurs by staff as she lay dying in the Joliette hospital in late September.

Read more: Montreal unveils new strategy for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples

The mother of seven recorded the racist insults in a video posted on Facebook before her death, sparking widespread indignation across the country.

Echaquan’s death has led to several investigations and has raised questions about how Indigenous patients are treated in the province’s health-care network.

Aside from providing training to staff, the funding will also go toward hiring liaison officers, within hospitals and other health-care institutions, to strengthen the relations with Indigenous communities.

Dubé said the initiative announced Friday shows that the province is devoted to change and “concrete action” in wake of Echaquan’s death.

“I think that I said clearly that it was in our court to get the confidence back from those communities. I accept that there was an issue of trust, and what happened to Joyce Echaquan was an example of that,” Dubé said.

“But what we said from the five or six conversations we’ve had with Indigenous communities are that we will prove to you that we will have change.”

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Click to play video: 'Quebec Premier apologizes for racist treatment of Joyce Echaquan' Quebec Premier apologizes for racist treatment of Joyce Echaquan
Quebec Premier apologizes for racist treatment of Joyce Echaquan – Oct 6, 2020

Dubé said he also wants the Joliette hospital to be the first to implement the training.

The Council of the Atikamekw Nation applauded the measures, saying it’s a step in the right direction.

“There is still a lot of work to be done to address inequities and systemic racism,” said Grand Chief Constant Awashish in a statement. “Building trust between Indigenous people and the health system will not happen overnight.”

“At the very least, this announcement shows the government’s willingness to act, and that is why we are reaching out to work together.”

The president of the Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec (RCAAQ) applauded the decision to invest in cultural training. “It’s long overdue,” Philippe Meilleur said.

However, Meilleur said there is a need to have more Indigenous-led health care available.

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“In the Viens commission, it’s clearly stated that one of the best ways to deliver health care is through Indigenous organizations,” Meilleur said. “Friendship Centres have been on the ground for 15 years in the cities.”

Meuilleur pointed to the fact that there are already examples of clinics that have been successfully integrated within Friendship Centres, such as the Val D’Or clinic.

“They have a nurse as well as other clinicians that are working directly within the centre’s walls because that’s where Indigenous peoples are, that’s where they feel comfortable,” Meilleur explained.

Read more: Quebec’s new Indigenous affairs minister pledges action by Christmas

Meilleur added that if the government is going to create work opportunities for Indigenous people in health care, it also needs to come up with a long-term plan in order to build Indigenous work force.

“I hope, I really hope that the provincial institutions won’t be competing for staff with our own organizations because that would really just push back the problems down the line,” Meilleur said.

“We have to staff ourselves and there isn’t a lot of Indigenous workers out there; because of poverty, because of a lack of access to education.”

With files from Global News’ Benson Cook, Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press

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