MONTREAL — When protesters descend onto the streets of Montreal Saturday to demand an end to systemic racism, Nakuset hopes the sound of their drums is so loud that Joyce Echaquan will hear them, wherever she may be.
“Everytime something truly heart-wrenching happens in the community, it’s almost cathartic to bring people together to mourn and share their anger,” the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal told HuffPost Québec. That’s why she decided to organize a peaceful protest to demand justice for the 37-year-old Indigenous mother who was subjected to racist taunts by health-care workers shortly before her death in a Quebec hospital Monday.
She asks that everyone attending the march bring “a placard, a face mask and a drum, if they have one.”
“The drum represents the heartbeat. Bring your drums and make enough noise to where our cries for justice are heard more loudly than the nurses’ racist vitriol, Nakuset said. We want to show people her death means something. She’s not a statistic.”
“Quebec’s own George Floyd”
Nakuset has been fighting for Indigenous people’s rights for over 20 years. She’s seen many injustices against them take place, but she hopes Joyce Echaquan’s death might be a moment of reckoning for Canada.
Pointing to the impact of George Floyd’s death and how it reignited the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, she believes “it’s time for Canada to have this moment too.”
Watch: Coroner launches an inquiry into Joyce Echaquan’s death. Story continues below.
She believes if thousands of people take to the streets this weekend, Quebec Premier François Legault won’t have a choice but to recognize the existence of systemic racism in the province. Up until now, Legault has called the comments made by hospital staff caring for Joyce Echaquan “racist” and “totally unacceptable,” but stated he refuses to believe that “every nurse or the entire health-care system would have had that reaction.”
For Nakuset, it is also “totally unacceptable” that one full year after the Viens Commission determined that Indigenous people face racism in the province’s public institutions, the Legault government has yet to enact the recommendations in its report.
“[Indigenous Affairs Minister] Sylvie D’Amours says 51 recommendations have been applied. Please show me where, ’cause it ain’t happening here,” Nakuset said.
Family seeks justice
Joyce Echaquan’s family announced Friday that it would turn to the courts to seek justice for the young Atikamekw mother.
“They took my wife’s life,” Echaquan’s husband Carol Dubé roared in a raw and powerful declaration before the media. “She died in indignity, when she would have needed her family until the end. She received denigrating comments that proves there is still racism against Indigenous peoples.
“How many deaths is it going to take to say that there is systemic racism against us?” he bellowed.
Lawyer Jean-François Bertrand, who represents the family, said a complaint would be lodged with the police because he believes a criminal act took place. He also announced the family would seek damages and penalties from the hospital, as well as from every member of staff who was present at the time of Echaquan’s death.
“Those who said nothing are just as guilty,” he said.