Hundreds of people gather in Montreal to honor Joyce Echaquan one year after her death

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“There are a lot of emotions that strike us today. In difficult times like these, it’s good to see people. The family feels less alone.

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Hundreds of Montrealers gathered downtown Tuesday night for a solemn candlelight vigil in memory of Joyce Echaquan that took a political turn with repeated calls for Quebec to recognize the existence of systemic racism.

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Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven, died a year ago Tuesday in a Joliette hospital after filming herself as a nurse and insulting and mocking her. The video of her request for help, which she posted on Facebook Live, sparked outrage across the province and across Canada.

The vigil took place hours after La Presse and TVA Nouvelles reported that the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec, the body that issues nurses licenses in the province, suspended nurse Paule Rocray for a year because of his role in the incident. She had already been fired by the hospital.

“It was a trying day for everyone – the family, the community and myself,” Grand Chief Atikamekw Constant Awashish said at the rally as night fell over Montreal. “There are a lot of emotions that strike us today. In difficult times like these, it’s good to see people. The family feels less alone.

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Awashish was one of 10 speakers to address the crowd at Place Émilie-Gamelin. Others included Echaquan’s husband, Carol Dubé; Quebec Senator Michèle Audette; Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and Stanley Vollant, Innu surgeon at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal. Mayor Valérie Plante was present, but did not speak publicly.

Dubé, holding a feather in his left hand, spoke only in Atikamekw. Once he was done, family members held up paper lanterns, two of which took off into the night sky.

“He was happy to see people here,” Awashish later told the Montreal Gazette. “He spoke to the government to ask for help to make things better for everyone. He has no animosity towards non-natives or the government. He just hopes that members of the government will be more open-minded.

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Throughout the evening, a group of Atikamekw men drummed and sang traditional songs between speeches.

In front of the square, the children gathered around the drawings of the missing and lit candles in his memory. The organizers distributed purple bandanas in remembrance of Echaquan.

“Good-bye, Joyce,” Audette said, fighting back tears.

Speaking to family and friends of Echaquan, Audette, who is Innu and a long-time Indigenous women’s rights activist, added: “Through your eyes, your faces, your emotions, I have come to know Joyce and love him. And what she tells us is to stay responsible. Once you see the video you can’t pretend it isn’t happening here. We have a responsibility to say to all governments and citizens, “Let’s make sure this never happens again”.

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Audette and Patrick Martin-Ménard, lawyer and friend of Echaquan’s family, expressed their anger at the Order’s decision to suspend the nurse for only one year. They urged participants to contact their elected officials to complain about this decision and denounce systemic racism.

“They could have waited until tomorrow,” said Audette, her voice rising. “They could have met with the family to explain their reasons and their decision. Do not you think ?

Earlier Tuesday in Joliette, Echaquan’s family visited the hospital room where she died and subsequently participated in a ceremony in her honor with members of the Atikamekw community, politicians and other guests. Some guests wore a red or pink rose when entering a white tent erected behind the hospital. Others, some wearing ribbon skirts or Echaquan sweatshirts, sat in folding chairs outside.

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After the Joliette ceremony, Dubé spoke through tears as she described how her death had upset the family. He said she did not deserve the “denigration” she suffered at the hands of hospital staff at the end of her life. But he expressed hope that his partner’s death would help build a better society.

“We need to make sense of this tragic event. Ignorance must give way to reconciliation, ”he said.

Joyce Echaquan.
Joyce Echaquan. Photo courtesy of Karine Echaquan

Echaquan’s death sparked calls for more action to address the discrimination indigenous peoples – especially indigenous women – face when trying to access government services.

Some people at the Joliette ceremony acknowledged that some changes have taken place, including the hiring of more Indigenous staff within the province’s health network. Several speakers, however, criticized the Quebec government for refusing to recognize the existence of systemic racism, which Prime Minister François Legault has always refused to do.

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Paul-Emile Ottawa, leader of the Echaquan community in Manawan, located about 150 kilometers north of Montreal, said the Quebec government has a “duty” to recognize systemic racism and its failure to do so ” represents great pain and greatly adds to the pain experienced by Joyce’s family and loved ones.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière attended the ceremony alongside Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault. In a press release, Lafrenière asked Quebeckers to take advantage of this day to reflect on relations with First Nations and Inuit peoples and the fight against racism.

Legault tweeted on Tuesday that what had happened to Echaquan was a “collective awareness of the discrimination still suffered by indigenous peoples”. He added: “Let us continue to fight against these behaviors which have no place in our society. “

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  1. Joyce Echaquan’s death sparks demand for change

  2. Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman died at Joliette hospital after posting a video of insults spoken by staff just before her death.  A vigil was held in his honor in Saint-Charles-Borromée on Tuesday, September 29, 2020. Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette ORG XMIT: 65082

    Opinion: Joyce Echaquan’s treatment was not an isolated incident

  3. A photo of Joyce Echaquan is seen during a vigil outside the hospital where she died in Joliette, Que.  Tuesday, September 29, 2020. A nurse was fired after Echaquan, an indigenous woman, who died Monday night in hospital, was subjected to degrading comments.

    Opinion: Joyce Echaquan’s investigation brought hope, then doubts

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