Three paintings of women with braids and purple headbands in their hair with the words “Justice for Joyce” adorn the windows outside the Lanaudière Native Friendship Center in Joliette.
Sitting on the porch of the friendship center on Thursday morning, Lorraine Echaquan and Regine Dubé remember Atikamekw, a 37-year-old mother of seven, who died exactly three years ago in Joliette hospital, just a kilometer from the street.
“She loved taking care of her children,” says Echaquan, Joyce Echaquan’s cousin. “She was always smiling. I will always remember her smile.”
Dubé, who is not related but knew Joyce Echaquan since she was a child, remembers the shock she felt the day Echaquan died on this day in 2020. She also thinks often about her friend’s smile. “She will always be with me,” Dubé said.
The two women had been preparing food in anticipation of a vigil and march, which would begin downtown and end at the hospital that night. Carol Dubé, Joyce Echaquan’s husband, was expected to give a speech at the vigil.
Lorraine Echaquan says the third anniversary of her cousin’s death is bittersweet. Much has changed for the better since Joyce Echaquan died of pulmonary edema on Sept. 28, 2020, at Joliette Hospital while she filmed a male and female nurse hurling insults at her as she lay suffering, she said.
Among those changes, the board of health that oversees the hospital hired Guy Niquay as associate executive director. Niquay is also a community leader in Manawan, Echaquan’s home community.
The community also established the Joyce’s principle Office, which is pushing for the adoption of a document that community members presented to the governments of Quebec and Canada after Echaquan’s death.
The Joliette Friendship Center has opened a small clinic offering the community a wider variety of options. The Quebec government also increased its funding for the center and introduced a bill that would enshrine cultural sensitivity in the health care system, but the bill led First Nations leaders to leave the National Assembly in early this month due in part to continued government opposition. refusal to acknowledge systemic racism. The bill mentions Joyce’s Principle but the government has not officially adopted it.
And on Thursday, Breaking: learned the health board was appealing an arbitrator’s decision ordering it to reinstate the nurse who insulted Echaquan.
But the memory of what happened to Echaquan is still fresh, as is the loss of his presence before his loved ones.
“The hospital is more careful,” says Lorraine Echaquan, adding at the same time: “But I definitely don’t go there.”
Fear of Quebec’s health system among Indigenous people persists, as does prejudice in the non-Indigenous community, says friendship center executive director Jennifer Brazeau.
“There is a lot of ignorance within the general population that we need to work on,” Brazeau said.
Still, since Echaquan’s death in 2020, Brazeau says the center’s non-Indigenous partners have stepped up and become more active.
Echaquan’s bravery continues to inspire
Center members have also felt emboldened and motivated to reinforce the importance of Indigenous-run services.
The day Echaquan died was a turning point, Brazeau said.
“It was a day that really exposed a lot of the issues our members were experiencing,” Brazeau said. “His bravery and being able to expose the situation he was experiencing in the last moments of his life was something super powerful for us.”
Thursday night’s vigil featured speeches from Chief Sipi Flamand of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, Jennifer Petiquay-Dufresne, executive director of the Joyce Principle Office, Grand Chief Constant Awawish of the Atikamekw Nation Council, as well as Brazeau .
“I believe that Joyce’s death has and continues to increase awareness of systemic racism. This is the first step in breaking down barriers to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of all Indigenous people,” Petiquay-Dufresne said.
“The work is not over and unfortunately many are still afraid to go to healthcare facilities, but today’s march fuels hope for a better future,” Awashish said.
There were also musical performances by Manawan-born artists Mikon Niquay Ottawa and the Black Bears Singers.
Hours earlier, at the Joliette hospital, Maryse Poupart, executive director of the Lanaudière health board, said the day is one of somber reflection.
“We have the duty to remember in honor of the family, who suffered something unacceptable. We also have the duty to remember in order to act. It is an important moment,” Poupart said.
Niquay, the associate chief executive who was appointed two years ago, says his father’s dying wish last year was for him to continue helping vulnerable people. He says he is always available to care for patients when they need him and that he is in constant contact with indigenous community groups.
“The way I see it, I can’t tell anyone, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow morning.’ Tomorrow morning is too late, that’s how I’ve worked: it doesn’t matter if it’s day, night or the weekend. “I’m here when people need me,” he said.
Other changes to the health board include an Atikamekw representative on the board of directors and the addition of a dedicated room in the hospital where families can gather and where patients can have questions and concerns answered by a full-time administrative assistant.
Two liaison officers have been recruited and the services of an interpreter are available.
The Health Board refuses to reinstate the fired nurse
In the interview with CBC, Poupart revealed that the health board is appealing the court’s decision asking it to rehire the nurse fired after Echaquan’s death.
In August, a arbitrary court ordered the Lanaudière health board to reinstate Myriam Leblanc, who was fired in 2020.
Echaquan filmed Leblanc and a nurse berating her and making degrading comments as she lay in pain in a Joliette hospital bed.
Poupart said the health board is refusing to rehire Leblanc, who, with his union, had challenged the dismissal before the arbitration court, called the Duel Arbitration Court.
“Our view is that the workers’ words are in significant opposition to the values of the organization, in particular those of goodwill and respect,” said Poupart, who has been CEO since 2021.
The friendship center’s Brazeau says that while the relationship between Indigenous leaders and advocates with the health board has improved, she would like to see more structural changes to ensure progress is not reversed once people like Poupart and Niquay leave. back their roles.
“It will take the will of the people who work in those spaces to be able to change the way they work concretely on the ground and to be able to make sure that we leave a legacy that has changed throughout the network.” she said.