Third Anniversary Vigil

Remembering and Honouring Joyce Echaquan

September 28 marked the third anniversary of Joyce Echaquan's death in a hospital in Joliette, Quebec, after she was denied needed medical care, at least in part due to racist stereotyping. Joyce was from the Atikamekw community of Manawan.

Actions were organized across Quebec to commemorate her death, including in her community in Manawan, as well as in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and Montreal, amongst others.

Montreal's action took place in the form of a vigil organized by the Caring for Social Justice Collective, in conjunction with the Office of Joyce's Principle, at Place du Canada. Over a hundred people participated.

Dr. Nazila Bettache, a clinical investigator and member of the Collective, was the evening's moderator. She noted that Joyce "left a memory. Her gesture, her legacy has inspired movements for equality in Indigenous healthcare, for cultural securization, Joyce's Principle[1] and has mobilized people, institutions, entire communities and her voice continues to resonate with us." As health care providers within the Collective, she added, "We feel that it's really our duty and our responsibility to act every day to denounce racism within healthcare."

Leilani Shaw, a Mohawk from Kanhnawake and Interim Executive Director of the Montreal Indigenous Community Network, informed about her organization's work, which "encompasses various aspects of Indigenous well-being", with a focus on safe access to healthcare services.

A study undertaken by her organization in 2012 on the health needs of urban Indigenous peoples, she explained, "revealed stressing but unsurprising results" such as that "Indigenous community members face discrimination based on their origin, social class and language when seeking healthcare services. This, she added, "prevents many from seeking the care that they so desperately need. Mental healthcare and addiction are significant concerns" as is the "lack of cultural sensitivity" with many yearning "for traditional healing services," which barriers render inaccessible.

Her organization undertook a second recent research study, "a very comprehensive community plan" focused on "the safety, well-being and belonging" of Indigenous peoples "through the lens [of] and with Indigenous youth." "Finding a home here and a sense of belonging in this urban landscape is vital for our well-being and our survival. We must feel at home not only in this land, but within the institutions that should provide [for] our basic needs. This is why Joyce is so important."

She added that Joyce's "determination led to calls for cultural sensitivity, policy changes, increased Indigenous representation and accountability within the healthcare system.

In 2020, the Network "became a partner and a chair in the Montreal Indigenous Health Advisory Circle where we advocate for system changes" "to begin transforming the system that has historically harmed our people." Its priorities are to "continue to develop new practices providing holistic and culturally safe healthcare; addiction treatment and social housing."

Mathieu Robertson, an Atikamekw and a ‘navigator' with Doctors of the World who works on the street with the homeless, said he is often called upon to walk the hallways of hospitals and see trauma close up. He added that he was "really touched" by Joyce's story, which "shone a light on the need for Indigenous persons to be involved in care."

Navigation work, he informed " is about accompanying Indigenous homeless people in healthcare, ensuring that they are provided safe care", which he pointed out "is much broader than simply the medical profession" "and begins with accompaniment, along with care. It's an ensemble that we attempt to consider." He spoke about feeling privileged to be working with Indigenous partner organizations "working for the community, for those who are the most vulnerable", alongside "allies within the system. Without them, our work would be a lot more difficult."

Lucie-Catherine Ouimet, a primary care nurse practitioner from Mitchikanibikok Inik [Algonquin Barriere Lake First Nation, now called Rapid Lake], explained that she works with Doctors of the World and the Native Friendship Centre, the entire Indigenous navigator team, the mobile clinic as well as many other collaborators and organizations. This collaboration, she explained, " makes for a safe and less stressful environment, one which is much more adopted [...] to the reality of our brothers and sisters living on the street.

"What I try to do as a healthcare professional [is to integrate] our traditional knowledge, our ancestral legacy that is every bit as valid."

"Although there's still a way to go, there's a momentum there which we must try not to stop and what I think is key is to recognize that there are other ways of looking at health, through its emotional, spiritual, physical and cognitive aspects."


1. "Joyce's Principle aims to guarantee to all Indigenous people the right of equitable access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services, as well as the right to enjoy the best possible physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
"Joyce's Principle requires the recognition and respect of Indigenous people's traditional and living knowledge in all aspects of health."

(Photos: TML, N. Stake-Doucet, National Council Indigenous Midwives)

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 9 - October 2023

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