Anti-racism instructor gifts beaded portrait medallion to Joyce Echaquan's husband

·3 min read

A woman who teaches anti-racism courses to health-care staff dealt with her grief over the death of Joyce Echaquan by beading Echaquan's likeness into a medallion and giving it to the woman's husband.

Echaquan, 37 and a mother of seven, died in September after recording her last moments on a Facebook live video. The Atikamekw woman captured racist comments directed at her from health-care staff at a hospital in Joliette, Que.

Victoria Tenasco's husband is from Manawan, Que., the same community as Echaquan. He's also a cousin of Carol Dubé, Echaquan's husband.

For the last 10 years, Tenasco has facilitated and taught anti-racism and cultural safety courses in health-care settings across the country.

"For me, it's one thing to talk about racism and cultural safety all day, every day in my professional capacity, but then to actually experience it that close to home was really hard," she said.

Tenasco hadn't touched her beadwork since the start of the pandemic in March.

But after witnessing how Echaquan was treated before her death, Tenasco was drawn back to her beads.

"I felt like that's the way that I was going to deal with what I saw and what I heard; that was the way that I was going to get through it," said Tenasco.

Medicines for strength

Tenasco is Anishinaabe from Kitigan Zibi, Que., and has been beading since she was five.

She started beading the medallion on the day before Echaquan's funeral and was hoping to give it to Dubé the next day.

Stephanie Tenasco
Stephanie Tenasco

The timing didn't work out as planned and she spent the following six evenings finishing the detailed piece of art.

"I actually put our four medicines in between the medallion and the leather before I sewed it up so that when her husband would be wearing the medallion, it would fall sort of close to his heart and he'd have the strength to push his work forward because, from what we've seen in the news, he has a long journey ahead before we see any concrete justice for Joyce," said Tenasco.

'It gives me courage'

Since 2011, Tenasco and her partner have travelled near Manawan for an annual fall hunt. After they finished this year's hunt, they stopped in to Manawan to see Dubé to give him the medallion.

Tenasco, who primarily speaks English, said there was a bit of a language barrier as Dubé speaks only French.

Submitted by Carol Dubé
Submitted by Carol Dubé

"It was really hard because Carol came outside and he had his seven month old baby; he was holding his little son," said Tenasco.

"And it was heartbreaking to see with my own eyes, not on TV, like in real time, how this baby will never, ever know his mom ever again."

In a Facebook message to CBC News, Dubé said of the medallion that he is "very honoured and surprised because it is made of beads. It is unique."

He said he not only wears it to events, but has started to wear it everywhere that he goes.

"When I wear it, it gives me courage," he said.

"It signifies my wife, the strength, the people, the joy, and above all a great beauty and the beginning of great change."

Echaquan's death has sparked protests, a public inquiry and a public apology from the Quebec premier at the National Assembly.