A shocking video showing Canadian hospital staff mocking a dying Indigenous woman has left a community in mourning and renewed calls for the country to confront the realities of systemic racism.
Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman, arrived at a hospital in Joliette in Quebec on Monday, complaining of stomach pain.
The mother of seven had previously suffered from similar issues and told staff she had heart disease. Echaquan began live streaming his experience on Facebook as his pain intensified and hospital staff seemed indifferent to his pleas for help.
In the footage, Echaquan is seen grimacing as nurses call him “stupid as hell”. “Are you done being stupid?” Have you finished? A nurse asked in French as Echaquan moaned in pain.
“You made bad choices, my dear,” said another nurse. “What will your children think when they see you like this?”
“She’s good at having sex, more than anything else,” said the first nurse.
Indigenous leaders say the video exposes the grim realities of systemic racism that have long been overlooked across the country.
“Discrimination against First Nations people remains widespread in the health care system and it must stop,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement.
Quebec premier François Legault condemned the staff’s actions, telling reporters that at least one of the nurses had been fired.
But the Prime Minister rejected the idea that Echaquan’s death was representative of a larger problem of racism in Quebec, despite a public inquiry finding to the contrary.
“I really don’t think we have that kind of way of dealing with First Nations people in our hospitals in Quebec,” he said.
The provincial coroner’s office has announced an inquest into the circumstances of Echaquan’s death. The local health council is also investigating.
“We will not tolerate any such remarks from our staff,” the board said in a statement.
Marc Miller, Federal Minister of Indigenous Services, offered his condolences to the community traumatized by the “heartbreaking” video.
“It’s the worst face of racism,” Miller told reporters. “He’s someone who is the most vulnerable. And they die, after hearing racist remarks against them.
Contrary to Legault’s remarks, however, Miller said that Echaquan’s death reflected broader obstacles that Indigenous peoples still face in Canada.
“This is not an isolated event,” Miller said, referring to a BC hospital case where staff allegedly bet on the blood alcohol content of new Aboriginal patients.
For those who underwent treatment similar to Echaquan’s, the video marked a shocking reminder of the inequalities present in the country’s health system.
“I’m not sure I can adequately explain how much watching # JoyceEchaquan’s last moments video weighs on me. As an Indigenous woman with chronic illnesses, the treatment she has endured is my ultimate fear. ” tweeted Frances Elizabeth Moore, Anishinaabe activist and community worker from the Timiskaming First Nation living in London, Ontario.
“I always need to defend myself. Sometimes I brought others on dates because I didn’t feel safe going alone. This is nothing new. It is not unknown. You just haven’t listened. I hope that serious reform will come from Joyce’s heroic actions. Rest well, sister.