Last week on The Social, we talked about a news story about the “massive drop in cancer screenings” due to the pandemic. Unfortunately it’s not because people have less cancer, it’s that they’re not going for regular checkups. Since then I’ve been thinking about how I’m probably overdue for my pap and I’m definitely overdue at the dentist and I’ve had rashes all over my body probably from stress that I should get checked out. But like so many others, I’ve been hesitating to make an appointment. It was only last night that I decided I have to get over it and go see my doctor. Who I love. Who I know will listen to my concerns and do everything she can to make sure my issues are addressed. And that is a privilege, a privilege Joyce Echaquan didn’t have.
Joyce Echaquan is the Atikamekw woman, a mother of seven, who died in September 2020 after livestreaming her racist hospital experience in Joliette, Quebec, where nurses and staff told her she was better off dead, judged her life, and basically did not treat her with the dignity she deserved. It’s been five months and there are still no answers. The federal government however announced last week that “it is allotting $2 million dollars to help the Atikamekw Nation begin implementation of Joyce’s Principle. The document was written by Indigenous leaders calling for equitable access to health care following Joyce Echaquan’s tragic death.”
“It’s important for all people and instances of leadership to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism within the health-care system and to start making the concrete gestures and actions that are needed,” said Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.
With the federal government’s help, her community and family are hoping the principle named in her honour will give other Indigenous people access to fair and equal health care, that she did not receive.”
This is a start but that’s all it is – a start, an overdue start. And you can’t really advance meaningfully without really getting uncomfortable about all the ways in which the system failed Joyce and continues to fail Indigenous people in Canada. Just today, Barbara Flamand, who was the cultural safety liaison officer for the Atikamekw community, revealed that she was on site at the hospital the night Joyce died. But she was never consulted, no doctor or nurse called her. And by the time she found out about Joyce’s situation, it was too late. Barbara goes on to talk about how her services and skills have been underused and even ignored, how racism has had an impact on her ability to do her job and help those in her own community:
"Even I am not well received. I'm here to help the doctors and nurses, but it's not easy. They are closed off. Each time, they ask me who I am in relation to the patients. I have to repeat all the time that I am there to help people in my community who do not understand French well. It's exhausting."
Barbara says she took sick leave in January and she has since left her job. So a person who was there to assist, who ostensibly was there to improve the Indigenous hospital experience has been forced to give up her purpose due to lack of support. You can read more of her story here and if you are not fluent in French, google translate will give you the big points.
Barbara’s story illuminates how layered the issue is, that to truly begin to find solutions and save lives, literally, all areas of health care have to be examined and considered and challenged because so much of it is broken – a fact that has been exposed during this pandemic, as marginalised communities are disproportionately affected and, in particular, the Indigenous community has had to deal with the double whammy of community spread and a lack of faith in the healthcare system.
Joyce’s tragedy made some headlines – not enough, but some – when it happened but the worry is that as more time passes, people will forget, the urgency will fade, and then, inevitably, there will be more people neglected, and they too will suffer, even more than they are already suffering.
For more information about Joyce’s Principle please click here.
Yours in gossip,