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Statement regarding Joyce Echaquan

As a community health centre, Somerset West Community Health Centre is committed to anti-oppressive, anti-racist, inclusive practices.

We are grieving and angered by the heinous treatment that Joyce Echaquan, a 37 year old Atikamekw woman from Manawan, Quebec, endured in a hospital in Joliette in the moments before her death. 

Somerset West Community Health Centre denounces in the strongest possible terms the racist treatment that Ms. Echaquan suffered at the hands of the very healthcare workers who were supposed to provide her with comfort and care. 

We strongly support the announced public inquest into Echaquan’s death.

A new tragedy has been added to a list that was already far too long. We are sadly aware that this incident is not isolated.

Indigenous people have for far too long been subject to discrimination, marginalization and brutalization, driven by racist mentalities and colonial attitudes. Racism and colonialism are current, evolving processes that have tangible effects for generations of Indigenous people alive and yet to come. 

The impacts are many. Because of negative interactions with the health care system and other systems, Indigenous people may hesitate or delay seeking health care.

As a health organization we must examine ourselves. We commit to continuing to build culturally competent services. We need to understand many of the traumatic experiences to which many Indigenous people have been exposed. And use that to inform how we offer safe care that does not perpetuate harm. 

We thank our Indigenous colleagues at SWCHC for their thoughts and reflection:.

“There is no justice when a crime has no charges,” says Michele Penney, community developer at Somerset West Community Health Centre. “Seven children lost a mother because of racist attitudes. Too many tears of grief have fallen and too many communities have been torn apart because of these injustices. It's time to STOP!”

...the death of Joyce Echaquan has served as a painful reminder of the racism that persists in Canada toward Indigenous peoples,” says Dr. Sabrina Squire, physician at Somerset West Community Health Centre. “It's all too easy for health care providers to have knee jerk reactions and pass judgement on Indigenous peoples; if more people were educated on the history of colonization and the effects of the resultant intergenerational trauma they might be more likely to respond in a more culturally safe manner. I urge you to consider the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

We urge non-Indigenous allies to recognize how the constant collective grieving due to racist incidents is exhausting, and overwhelming for people within Indigenous communities. We invite you to check this list of resources for non-Indigeous people looking to learn more about how they can contribute to being the allies that our Indigenous communities deserve.

When in-person gatherings are safe, we will encourage staff to participate in the Indigenous feasts and gatherings.

As a community health centre, we focus on promoting health and wellbeing and it is important for our agency to reflect on and continue to dismantle the pervasive, overt and covert, barriers to health that exist for Indigenous communities, especially for those living in our catchment and accessing our services. 

During this especially heavy time, we continue to provide education, healing, wellness, and community support for Indigenous communities. This includes an Anti-Racism Project team led by peers within our catchment area. We strongly value the leadership of our Indigenous colleagues who are firmly dedicated to the health and wellness of Indigeous communities here in Ottawa. This incident reinforces that our work must continue.

We encourage you to become familiar with some of the relevant health calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


22. We call upon those who can effect change within the Canadian health-care system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients.

23. We call upon all levels of government to: i. Increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the health-care field. ii. Ensure the retention of Aboriginal health-care providers in Aboriginal communities. iii. Provide cultural competency training for all healthcare professionals.


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