Atikamekw community calls for apology from Quebec government following Joyce Echaquan's death

The Atikamekw community is asking for an apology from the Quebec government for the death of Joyce Echaquan.

It wants to be able to participate in the public inquiry into her death, the head of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, Paul-Émile Ottawa said on Monday.

The Atikamekw chiefs met with Premier François Legault at his office in Montreal on Monday, one week after Echaquan's troubling death at the Joliette Hospital.

A video she shot on her deathbed shows her in distress, pleading for help as hospital staff berate her with racist remarks.  Thousands marched through the streets of Montreal over the weekend to demand justice for the 37-year-old mother of seven's death.

The coroner has launched a public inquiry into her death

The chiefs wanted to meet with the premier to discuss Echaquan's and the unhealthy situation that has endured for years at the Joliette hospital, they say.

Ottawa descirbed the discussions as "cordial and direct," adding that leaders were "optimistic" but "cautious."

The chief asked the government to make education in Indigenous culture compulsory for the medical profession and to impose internships within the communities for future doctors and nurses.

Echaquan's family lawyer Jean-Francois Bertrand said he hopes the video will be the wake-up call that leads to real change.

Bertrand told The Canadian Press Monday that for many, the racism and discrimination felt by Indigenous people is an abstract idea.

The lawyer intends to file a lawsuit against the hospital on behalf of Echaquan's family, and said the provincial government's decision to hold a public inquiry into her death is a good first step.

Indigenous advocates say Echaquan's death is a glaring example of systemic racism, a term Legault and his ministers have refused to use.

"There has been so much documentation of the systemic racism it's hard to believe the premier is still digging in and denying the problem," said Cindy Blackstock of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

Blackstock said admitting there is systemic racism is a critical first step.

"Number one, the premier needs to unequivocally acknowledge that systemic racism is a problem in Quebec, because unless you acknowledge the problem you're not going to deal with it," she said.

A private funeral is scheduled for Echaquan Tuesday in the Atikamekw community of Manawan, about 250 kilometres north of Montreal.

- With files from CTV News Montreal's Rob Lurie
- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2020.

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