For Indigenous people, cultural safety means medical safety

Photo credit: Spencer Colby | Article originally published in The Pigeon.

Joyce Echaquan was surrounded by all the familiar features of a healthcare environment. She lay in a motorized bed wearing a teal gown, the walls were a soft beige, and the beeps of medical machinery faintly filled the air.

The racist phrases said by staff in Echaquan’s hospital room were familiar too.

She would die in that room on Sept. 28, 2020, at 37 years old, and leave behind seven children.

The circumstances of her death at the Centre Hospitalier de Lanaudière in Joliette, Q.C. are still being investigated by the Quebec government. However, Echaquan put the hostility and contempt she experienced in the moments before her death on direct display through a Facebook Live video.

“She’s only good for sex,” a nurse said off-camera. “You made bad choices, my dear.”

This racism towards Echaquan echoes the experiences of many other Indigenous people treated in hospitals across Quebec.

Marjolaine Siouï, executive director for the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission, told The Pigeon in an interview that Echaquan wasn’t alone in her mistreatment by healthcare professionals.

“Joyce’s case is not an isolated case,” she explained. “Sometimes, it’s a lack of knowledge, understanding, or comprehension.”

“In other ways, it’s about pure racism.”

Indeed, the cultural reckoning that swept across the country in 2020 quickly amplified Echaquan’s video, with some drawing parallels between her death and the death of George Floyd in the US this past May.

In early October, thousands marched through Montréal and held vigils in Ottawa demanding action against systemic racism in healthcare.

Siouï compares this recent public outcry to the Idle No More movement, which started in 2012 and campaigns to protect both First Nations territory and sovereignty.

“[Echaquan’s death] kind of re-enacted that movement in a different way,” she said. “We can no longer lose that momentum. We need to make sure that real changes in the system are going to be made.”

Quebec leaders have so far denied the existence of systemic racism in healthcare—a position they doubled down on while simultaneously rejecting a series of recommendations to improve health care in Echaquan’s name.

Despite this fact, they announced that they will provide $15 million over five years to train hospital staff in cultural sensitivity and hire workers who can help Indigenous patients navigate the Quebec health system.

Is this enough?

Read the full article at The Pidgeon

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