A jarring video surfaced on Tuesday in which staff in a Quebec hospital can be heard harassing an Indigenous woman on her deathbed. In the video, Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old woman of the Atikamekw Nation of Manawan, appears visibly disturbed as hospital staff insult her intelligence and capabilities as a mother.
Echaquan, a mother of seven, was suffering from stomach pain when she went to the Joliette hospital about 45 miles outside of Montreal on Monday. In her vulnerable state, she started live-streaming from her hospital bed to advocate for herself from taunting members of the hospital staff. Presumably, she didn’t know she was filming the last moments of her life or capturing the racist verbal abuse she’d be forced to hear in the moments leading up to her death.
In the audio, a nurse taunts Echaquan in French by asking “Are you done messing around?” The nurses continue with vicious remarks in French including saying Echaquan is “stupid as hell.” They then accuse Echaquan of making bad choices and asks what her children thought of her.
Between the hospital staff’s racial-motivated jabs, Echaquan is heard moaning out in pain. Tragically, Echaquan later passed away in the hospital.
After her death, Quebec Premier Francois Legault released a public statement that the “racist” remarks from the gaggle of nurses were "unacceptable" and committed to ensuring Echaquan's death would be thoroughly investigated. As of September 30, investigations have launched into the circumstances surrounding Echaquan’s death by Quebec’s coroner’s office and local health board. Meanwhile, just one of the nurses heard in the video has been terminated.
There’s been an outcry for justice among Indigenous people and their allies. Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller mentioned that scenarios like this are why Indigenous people “aren’t at ease going to hospitals.” He said this isn’t an isolated event but rather is part of a larger “pattern of racism.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by the Assembly of First Nations national chief, Perry Bellegarde, who said discrimination is prevalent in the health care system. Bellegarde tweeted “Joyce Echaquan, a young Atikamekw woman, died while facing incredibly racists and insensitive taunts by Quebec health care staff. Discrimination against First Nations people remains prevalent in the health care system and this needs to stop.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first issue of its kind. Earlier this year in British Columbia, hospital staff allegedly bet on the blood alcohol content of the hospital’s Indigenous patients. Racism against Indigenous people in Canada's health-care system contributed to the community’s poor health according to a 2015 report called “First Peoples, Second Class Treatment.“ Echaquan’s death sheds light on the systemic racism in Canada that First Nations people endure in the healthcare system and beyond.
The president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Lorraine Whitman, recalled the “horror” of hearing Echaquan begging for help. “It was with disgust that we heard a nurse, a woman who was supposed to care for her, utter racial slurs rather than come to her aid,” she said before pondering how many other Indigenous women are being ‘subjected to this sort of abuse’ in Canada but didn’t have the “courage or ability to film their own distress.”