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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

The times they aren’t a-changing

BY Will Nicholls Oct 9, 2020

By now most of you will have either seen or heard of the video portraying Joyce Echaquan’s last moments in a Joliette hospital. How the clearly distressed Atikamekw woman from Manawan pleaded for help but received only slurs and neglect from nursing staff shortly before she died.

The outrage expressed in the news and social media was overwhelming. Ironically, it was just a year ago that the Viens Commission – created to investigate discrimination against Indigenous peoples in Quebec’s public services – released its final report. Among its 142 Calls for Action were 34 that dealt with the health and social services sector.

The report was clear in saying that First Nations and Inuit persons faced systemic discrimination when using public services. Though Quebec Premier François Legault condemned the actions of the nurses in Joliette, he rejected the view that systemic discrimination exists in Quebec – just as he did after the Viens Commission. 

That is telling. It means that the Viens Commission’s report will likely have the same fate as so many other reports undertaken by federal and provincial governments. They sit on the shelf gathering dust until similar problems capture public attention. Then Indigenous leaders will point out, and rightly so, that if action had been taken in previous crises the situation would not have happened. In Quebec, it means the premier either has never read the report or will ignore it and the actions needed to ensure that all residents of Quebec, regardless of their background, receive equal treatment when dealing with Quebec’s public services.

This was not an isolated incident, it just happened to be live streamed on Facebook. It touched us all to see the way Joyce Echaquan was treated instead of receiving the lifesaving care we should expect in our hospitals. It is likely this lack of care led to her death. The Quebec coroner’s office will be looking into the circumstances surrounding her death, though it will likely take months. Months in which time the story will likely be forgotten, except by family, friends and the community she came from.

We can cry out for justice for Joyce Echaquan. But for how long? Over the years Indigenous people have learned that justice is not always blind. What is behind the representation of the symbol of justice with a woman holding scales blindfolded is that sex, race, religion or culture is not a factor. That justice and the law is impartial to all who are before it.

Yes, one nurse has lost her job but that seems too little. As a September 29 release by the Grand Council of the Crees said, this was not an isolated event. “Such conduct could only happen in an environment that tolerated it,” the statement added. “The staff abused Joyce Echaquan because they thought that they could, with impunity, without consequences.”

Let’s change that. Vigils, marches and gatherings are good, but most politicians aren’t really swayed by them to act. So, how do you get their attention? The easiest way is through email. Remember that after they are elected many voters don’t have much communication with them. All we have to do is go to Quebec’s National Assembly page and click on Members. Each one of them has an email tag that can be used to send a message demanding justice for Joyce Echaquan and changes to the system. 

Send it to as many Members as you want. Resend it each workday for the next month. And all it would take is five minutes a day from your time on Facebook. If enough people do this, then something just might happen because as it stands right now the time aren’t changing unless you, and the rest of us, help make it happen… 

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.