We are writing to you to express our outrage as leaders of feminist movements throughout Canada on the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who was the mother of seven children and a cherished family and community member. We stand in solidarity with the Indigenous women’s group Femmes Autochtones du Québec / Quebec Native Women to demand action against the institutional violence that caused the tragic early death of Ms. Echaquan. Indigenous women face daily racism and discrimination and Ms. Echaquan’s death from mistreatment in a Joliette hospital on Monday 28th September is yet another horrific example.
To date, the government’s response is totally inadequate. Two hospital employees have been fired; three investigations have been launched. In and of themselves, these are not sufficient responses to match the scope of the problem of systemic anti-Indigenous racism nor the outpouring of anger and grief from across Quebec and the world.
We are greatly concerned that as Quebec’s leader, you have not denounced this event as systemic racism. The evidence and the experiences of women demonstrate that this is not an isolated incident. This is an egregious example of neglect, mistreatment and violence based on anti-Indigenous racism.
Indigenous women encounter persistent barriers as they try to access Quebec’s institutions, facing racism and prejudice in hospitals, schools, police services and in fact, most government institutions. This prejudice finds its roots in the history of residential schools, colonialism, and genocide. The product of this history is public institutions and employees that treat Indigenous women and communities poorly, sometimes leading to abuse, bodily harm, neglect, and real-life tragic consequences like the death of Ms. Echaquan.
The final report of the Viens Commission in September 2019 concluded that Indigenous peoples were victims of systemic discrimination when it comes to receiving public services in Quebec. We support the calls by First Nations’ leaders to fully implement all the recommendations of this report, especially those concerning the violent racism and misogyny that police services throughout Quebec show towards Indigenous women. We implore the government to ensure that there is full nation-to-nation collaboration to address the ongoing racism.
In particular, the Viens Commission report outlined that Indigenous women face significant barriers to safety, including the racist stereotypes that were used as the basis for slurs and insults directed at Ms. Echaquan as she lay dying. This unique brand of racism that Indigenous women face as both women and as Indigenous people was also identified among the Calls to Action from the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls to Justice from the Final Report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Both reports characterized this violence as genocide. We call on the Quebec government to implement the actions outlined in all three reports to address this genocide.
It is time for direct, unequivocal action. It begins with your acknowledgment that systemic racism against Indigenous people exists. It requires concerted action and investment to eliminate this racism. We support the calls from Femmes Autochtones du Québec / Quebec Native Women for official recognition of systemic racism in Quebec’s institutions. If you cannot recognize it for what it is, you cannot stop it. We expect you to make this your priority: put an end to systemic racism before it harms and kills more Indigenous women.
Canadian Women’s Foundation