Cookshire women’s centre holds vigil in honour of Joyce Echaquan

By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

La Passerelle, a women’s intervention and learning centre in Cookshire-Eaton, held a vigil demonstration on Thursday afternoon to commemorate the life of Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous woman who lost her life on Monday in a hospital in Joliette, Quebec.
Echaquan live-streamed the last moments of her life on Facebook as she screamed in pain and called out for help, but to no avail. The video shocked the country as it captured hospital staff members hurling insults at the 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven.
“We are doing a vigil because we want to make sure that the premier hears us and to let the population know that these things have been going on for a while, so we have to do something and we have to change this,” said Angelika Homere, the organization’s project manager.
Canada is supposed to be an inclusive society, she continued, people are often told that everyone should be treated as equals. Homere said that the footage clearly indicates there is a persistent problem with the way Indigenous communities are treated in the province.
“People know there’s a problem, but I don’t think they’re ready to do something about it, and I’m talking about the whole population in general,” she said.
Homere believes the best way to tackle systemic racism is to recognize the existence of white privilege. The next step is to create a space for inclusivity and unity. The tragic events that unfolded on Monday triggered the organization to remind people about these issues.
The group was furious and frustrated after watching the video. They decided to take matters into their own hands in order to get people in Cookshire-Eaton to talk about Echaquan and generate a conversation about missing and murdered Indigenous women and children.
“The government should open a space to re-educate society about prejudging people and then we have to deconstruct these thoughts about ethnicities because that’s why some people are being discriminated against,” Homere said.
Vee Langlois, a coordinator at La Passerelle, added that the vigil is a way for the organization to honour Echaquan’s voice. She said the video was a gesture of survival and Quebecers need to understand what’s happening, because it isn’t an isolated incident.
There are problems with systemic racism within the justice, health and education system, Langlois continued. There needs to be more accountability and understanding of the situation, more specifically, Premier Francois Legault needs to acknowledge that a problem exists.
“We’re also shocked and mad to hear the premier say that it’s an isolated incident because it is absolutely not and I think that’s one of the important things we have as white people by saying that it is a racist system,” said Langlois.
She also brought up the ineffectiveness of last year’s Viens Commission. Nothing has been done to solve the problem, Langlois lamented, people shouldn’t wait for someone to die to start doing something; there should be systems in place to prevent it.
“We need to look at ourselves and where we come from, what’s our past, our history and just acknowledge what we did,” she said.
Hundreds of vigils will be held across the country on Oct. 4, a yearly tradition honouring, remembering and celebrating the lives of the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit+ people.
The Centre for Justice Exchange and Tears4Justice are also launching the Unearthing Justices Resource Collection: 500+ Indigenous Grassroots initiatives for MMIWG2S+ people, a nationwide media scan that documents over 500 Indigenous grassroots initiatives.

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