Atikamekw leaders want Quebec, Ottawa to tackle systemic racism with Joyce's Principle

·3 min read

Atikamekw leaders in Quebec say it's time for the provincial and federal governments to take a stand when it comes to systemic racism against Indigenous people, and have devised a set of principles they want to see adopted.

Joyce's Principle, a document created by the council of the Atikamekw Nation and the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, will be delivered to both levels of government on Monday.

It aims to guarantee that Indigenous people have equitable access to health and social services without discrimination.

The document is named after Joyce Echaquan, the 37-year-old Atikamekw mother who died in September at the hospital in Joliette, Que., after filming staff calling her derogatory names as she screamed in distress.

The first words in the 16-page document belong to Carole Dubé, Echaquan's husband, who said he hopes Joyce's Principle is adopted so his wife's death was not in vain, and so "no one will ever again be a victim of systemic racism."

Atikamekw leaders hope it will become a legal framework to guide the decisions governments make when it comes to health and social services.

"We want our people to feel safer. We want our people to have more of a sense of belonging, and for that we need for the government to recognize the problem and the roots of the problem," Constant Awashish, Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation, said in an interview.

Among the demands are training for health-care workers, the integration of Indigenous practices into educational programs and programs to support Indigenous students studying in the field of health and social services.

The groups say they want governments to prioritize acting on the principles while working in close collaboration with Indigenous leaders.

The document specifically asks Francois Legault's government to name and acknowledge systemic racism. Legault has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in the province, as have members of his cabinet.

Awashish said they considered the idea that making such a request of the government would be problematic, but decided to be blunt.

"We have to understand that this country was built on the colonization of First Nations, and today we have to live with that," he said.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

The council of the Atikamekw Nation held two weeks public consultations in October, where members of Atikamekw communities shared their experiences in health-care facilities, stories that were used to inform the principles.

When asked about the document Monday, Legault said Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière is working with an "action group," assembled this summer, that is looking at ways to counter racism across provincial services.

A spokesperson for Lafrenière said his team is already looking at ways to implement recommendations made during the Viens commission, a public inquiry that wrapped up last year and determined the treatment of Indigenous people in Quebec falls short across a range of public services.

Earlier this month, the Quebec government announced a $15-million plan to teach health-care workers how to better provide services to members of Indigenous communities.