Joyce Echaquan, 37, was a mother of seven and member of the Atikamekw Nation of Manawan, a First Nation based in Nitaskinan in the valley of the Saint-Maurice River in Quebec, Canada.
The Indigenous woman used Facebook Live to record her dying moments in a Montreal area hospital as staff nurses mocked her with racist comments as she cried for help.
Echaquan originally admitted herself to the hospital in Joliette, Quebec for stomach pains.
The First Nation woman’s video—though eventually removed from Facebook—circulated on news and social media platforms, including the Canadian national media network, CBC. In the video, Echaquan said she’d been overmedicated.
As she cried in anguish, video subtitles showed the replies by the nursing staff in French:
“Are you done messing around. Are you done?”
“You are stupid as hell.”
“Well you made some bad choices, my dear.”
“What would your kids think of seeing you like that? Think of them a bit.”
Another clip was posted to Twitter by APTN News—Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
Hospital staff also said Echaquan was “only good for sex” and claimed they were paying for her healthcare.
Echaquan’s death is being investigated.
Legal experts are calling for a hate crime and homicide investigation. Amir Attaran—professor in the Faculty of Law and School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa—said:
“They acted callously, they acted in a way they knew was unsafe, they acted with hatred, they acted with negligence and they killed a woman after uttering racist comments.”
He cited the administration of morphine and Echaquan’s own dying declaration that she’d been overmedicated.
“This was motivated by prejudice against Indigenous people and that is clear from their comments.”
“You have those two aggravating factors: an abuse of the position of trust and the motivation driven by prejudice or racism.”
Francois Legualt, Quebec’s Premier, stated a coroner’s inquiry was initiated in addition to an administrative investigation into hospital staff.
Of the nurses on the video, only one was fired as of Thursday afternoon.
During a press conference following Echaquan’s death, Legault stated the hospital staff behaved in a way that was “not acceptable.”
He also went on to acknowledge Quebec has a racism problem, despite his June refusal to admit systemic racism exists in Quebec.
“I really don’t think that we have this kind of way of dealing with First Nations people in our hospitals in Quebec.”
“Yes, there is some racism in Quebec. We’re working on that.”
Several groups that support Indigenous people’s rights in Canada have come out to denounce the nurses’ behavior since Echaquan’s death.
The Council of the Atikamekw Nation published a statement on the group’s official Facebook page.
It offered sympathies to the family and placed Echaquan’s death in a grim, wider context of ongoing racism in Canada:
“Discrimination against Indigenous people in public services is unfortunately still far too prevalent… [the video] reveals disturbing condescension and racist remarks on the part of caregivers.”
The Native Women’s Association of Canada also commented on Echaquan’s treatment and death.
“It was with disgust that we heard a nurse, a woman who was supposed to care for her, utter racial slurs rather than come to her aid.”
“It makes us wonder how many other Indigenous women are being subjected to this sort of abuse in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.”
The Cree Nation Government, which oversees the administrative needs of multiple First Nation groups across the Quebec province, tweeted a statement as well.
#JoyceEchaquan and #JusticeForJoyce both trended and provided a forum for folks to share their own experiences.
We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and community of Joyce Echaquan.