Volunteers come together to make comfort quilts for Joyce Echaquan's children

·3 min read

Pascale Annoual believes there is healing in quilting.

She is spearheading an initiative in collaboration with the Indigenous Health Centre of Tiohtià:ke and Arts Racines & Therapies Montreal to bring comfort and community — through quilting — to the seven children of Joyce Echaquan.

Echaquan was an Atikamekw woman from Manawan who died two months ago, shortly after recording herself as staff at Joliette Hospital hurled racist insults at her.

Now, Annoual is inviting people to make squares for seven quilts that will be gifted to each of Echaquan's children.

"We get into this sense of not knowing what to do or how to respond," Annoual said. "Quilting, sewing and doing something like this turns into a meditative time, so we're active, but at the same time we're reflecting and sharing our thoughts and feelings."

"We're able to translate that in a sense into an object that offers that comfort, and that reassurance, and that presence, to say 'we're here with you, and we're here as long as you need us to be'," she added.

As an art therapist, Annoual says coming together for a collaborative project like this one can help people address their grief, especially when the grief is collective, and the death had significant public attention.

She hopes the initiative will show Echaquan's children they're not alone, and they have a community to support them for the long haul.

"We can't go back and change the past, but we can certainly signify to the children to whom we're going to be offering this comfort quilt that we're there and we're present," she said, adding it's a way for people to share the burden.

Annoual said whereas buying something is a quick gesture, slowing down to create a gift for someone — and imbuing it with the symbolism of a warm, comforting blanket — is more meaningful.

She explained that with each mindful stitch, the quilt, made together as a collective, has as great an impact on the volunteers as on the project's recipients.

She hopes the quilters can also find ways to integrate Echaquan's favourite colour, purple, to be a "positive, strong and courageous reminder of her life."

"We hope it will have all the effects of comforting," she said.

Annoual has been in touch with Echaquan's uncle, to make sure the gift would be well received, and so as not to impose on Echaquan's husband and children.

Anyone looking to get involved can visit the 7 quilts for Joyce Echaquan Children Facebook page.

Calls for government to adopt Joyce's Principle

The quilting initiative comes as Indigenous leaders renew their calls on the government to adopt Joyce's Principle.

Joyce's Principle, named after Echaquan, is a document created by the council of the Atikamekw Nation and the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, which aims to guarantee that Indigenous people have equitable access to health and social services without discrimination.

The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador stated the province needs to move beyond "petty politics" and adopt Joyce's Principle.

"Today I appeal to all political parties in the National Assembly to join forces to adopt and rapidly implement Joyce's Principle," wrote Picard.

"What is at stake here, on a human, social and political level, must leave no room for partisan pettiness."