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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Joyce’s message

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Oct 9, 2020

Leah Gazan always reminds me to take care of my spirit. Sometimes I do it, but often I end up fighting on Twitter with racist people. I truly never learn, but I just cannot look past bigotry and hate.

I often bump heads with people on social media over the concept of systemic racism. By definition, “systemic racism is a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, healthcare, political power, and education, among other issues.”

So, systemic racism does not mean that everyone is racist all the time. In the healthcare system, you can identify it through certain patterns or behaviours towards a minority. For us Indigenous folks, it takes many forms – healthcare professionals refusing certain medications under the pretext that we might be drug addicts, receiving poor services because treating us badly has been normalized, forced sterilization, coercion, or healthcare providers not making any effort to understand our needs. Therefore, systemic racism is not saying that everyone is racist, but rather that the system allows these patterns to continue. Because of the normalization of these patterns, it is very hard to hold individuals or the whole system accountable.

I saw a woman die on my Facebook feed. Joyce Echaquan was from Manawan, had a husband and seven children. The nurses who were supposed to care for her watched her die while making racist comments to her. Joyce filmed herself as she was probably feeling her body give up on her. Unfortunately, I am not surprised that she had the reflex to pull out her cellphone. Indigenous people know they have strong chances of facing racism when seeking medical treatment in urban centres. 

Further denying the existence of systemic racism will lead us nowhere and will certainly not bring justice to everyone who suffered while navigating systems that were not designed for them. When Justice Jacques Viens submitted the final report of the Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Quebec, he used the term “discrimination” instead of “racism”. I do believe this was a political choice of words. Quebec has been so afraid to acknowledge, dissect and even mention the word “racism” that it sets back the healing process we need to undergo collectively here.

I did not know Joyce, yet I know too well the comments she received. I am tired of seeing my people die on social media. It is not normal. It is traumatizing. Unsurprisingly, Premier Legault denied once again the existence of systemic racism. At this point, I am truly scared at how settlers are in denial of such a measurable concept.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.