The death of an Indigenous women in a Quebec hospital mirrors Inuit experience seeking health care, Makivik says

“Inuit are sometimes afraid to go to a hospital for treatment fearing harassment by health care providers.”

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Inuulitsivik health centre in Puvirnituq. Makivik Corp. says the tragic death of Joyce Echaquan at a hospital in Joliette is a reminder of the way so many Indigenous people are treated in the health care system. (Nunatsiaq News file photo)

The organization representing Nunavik Inuit is publicly denouncing the treatment of a dying Atikamekw woman in a Quebec hospital earlier this week, saying it’s the same kind of racism many Inuit face in the health care system.

On Sept. 28, 37-year-old Joyce Echaquan was admitted to hospital in Joliette with severe stomach pain. The Atikamekw woman started livestreaming her exchange with two nurses, who were heard ignoring her requests and using racist slurs towards Echaquan shortly before she died.

The incident has triggered a coroner’s inquest and a public outcry about how Indigenous people are treated in the health care system.

For Inuit in Nunavik, the incident mirrors their own experiences seeking health care, said Makivik Corp. President Charlie Watt.

“Inuit are sometimes afraid to go to a hospital for treatment fearing harassment by health care providers,” Watt said in a news release on Friday, Oct. 2.

“The gap between [Indigenous and non-Indigenous people] is growing, and we have to stop it before it goes completely out of control.”

The death of Echaquan comes exactly a year after the release of the Viens Commission’s final report, which documented extensive testimony from Inuit and other Indigenous groups across Quebec about discrimination they faced in the province’s health care system and with other public services.

Watt said this and other examples of discrimination that Indigenous groups face in Quebec do not bode well for Makivik’s own current negotiations with both the federal and provincial governments towards a self-determination agreement for Nunavik.

“We need to get to the core of systemic racism and the colonist rule that has dominated Canada for hundreds of years,” Watt said. “Our governments are not dealing with the poison that is still killing Indigenous citizens.”

Quebec Premier François Legault has acknowledged there is racism in Quebec but does not believe it is systemic.

To better address issues of discrimination facing Indigenous and other racialized groups in the province, Legault set up an anti-racism task force earlier this year to consult with those communities and draft a report of its findings, with recommendations.

The task force says it’s on track to deliver on that report this year, but has yet to meet with any Inuit organizations.

Task force member Denis Lamothe said he’s extended an invitation to Makivik Corp. to meet its members.

But as of Oct. 2, a spokesperson for Watt’s office said that the organization had not yet heard from the task force.