Native Americans have dealt with systemic racism for centuries. They were shoved onto barren reservations, they were slaughtered in battles over land (you might remember the words “Manifest Destiny” from your grade school Social Studies classes), and even today, the portrayal of Native Americans riding stallions,wearing full-feathered war bonnets, and speaking in halting verbiage peppered with “ugh” and “heap big um” and “kemo sabe” should certainly make anybody cringe.
And you think, “Well, this treatment of Native Americans can’t be as bad in Canada, right?”
Oh, man, you have no idea.
Generations of First Peoples were forced to attend “residential schools,” where they were forbidden to use their native language or customs, their long hair was cropped to the skin, and they were force-fed a minimal education combined with chores and slave labor. This left graduates in a “neither fish nor fowl” life of not being white enough for the white man’s laws, but also losing the culture and legacy of their tribes and peoples. And while you’re at it, maybe look up the genocide of First Nations and Métis women that happened between 1980 and 2016, where 16% of the homicides and sexual assaults against women were against those of First Nations and Métis tribes.
Which makes this most recent news sickening.
Joyce Echaquan was a mother of seven and a member of the Atikamekw tribe in Quebec. She suffered from stomach pains, and was taken to the local hospital. During her stay, her condition deteriorated. She was in pain. She cried out for help.
She received insults in return.
On Monday, with no relief from the pain, and no relief from the taunts from the hospital staff, Echaquan activated her Facebook Live account on her cell phone.
The last words Joyce Echaquan heard were that of hospital staff insulting her, chastising her for what they claimed were bad choices she made in life, and that her seven children must be embarrassed by her life choices.
“Are you done messing around? Are you done? Damn.”
“You’re stupid as hell.”
“You made bad choices, my dear.”
“What do you think your children would think seeing you like this? Think of them.”
“She’s only good for sex. And we’re paying for this.”
Joyce passed away hours later. She left behind a husband and seven children, as well as a community devastated by her passing and by the insensitivity of the hospital staff in caring for her.
This story is heartbreaking and devastating. Whatever Joyce Echaquan’s final moments were, they did not need to include insults and racist taunts from hospital staff. Imagine if that was your mother or your sister who was treated like that in a hospital. And that her final moments upon this earth were with the words of disgust and contempt in the air – words that we may never had known, had Joyce Echaquan not recorded them on her cell phone for the world to hear.
This is where we are in the world.
We need to be better than this.
Justice for Joyce.