Those wondering whether Indigenous women’s rights are still being violated need only look to the death of Joyce Echaquan for their answer, advocates said Sunday as they participated in an annual vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman, filmed hospital staff insulting her on Monday while she lay dying in her hospital bed in Joliette, Que., in what advocacy organizations said was yet another example of the sort of systemic racism that leaves the disappearances of Indigenous women and girls unsolved.
“Violence against them is still present, and last week we had yet another horrific example of this,” the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador said in a news release that renewed a call for government action to implement a national inquiry’s recommendations on the issue.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, in tweets Sunday marking the day of remembrance, commended crowds of protesters who marched through her city’s downtown on Saturday to demand justice for Echaquan, a 37-year-old mother of seven.
Plante called for people to be allies of First Nations to end systemic racism and discrimination, and to commit to reconciliation.
Echaquan died shortly after filming herself from her hospital bed about 70km north of Montreal, last Monday while she was in clear distress and pleading for help.
Two nurses have since been fired, and the coroner will hold an inquest into the incident.
Those participating in Sunday’s virtual Sisters in Spirit vigil lit candles to honour Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing.
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, shared a photo of a candle, noting the signficance of remembering lost women.
“I stand with the survivors, families, and all of our allies trying to push for better lives for First Nations Women,” Bellegarde wrote on Twitter.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also shared a message for families and victims. “For far too long, we have failed Indigenous women and girls,” Trudeau’s Twitter statement read. “This ongoing national tragedy must end, and we won’t stop working with you until it does.”
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls delivered its final report in June 2019. It described the tragedy as genocide, and concluded that decades of systemic racism and human rights violations played a role in the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of Indigenous women and girls.
This past June, the Liberal government delayed the intended release of its national action plan on the inquiry’s recommendations, saying the pandemic was slowing the process down.
Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada said while it’s disappointing that the government did not deliver the plan within one year of the national inquiry’s final report, it’s time to focus on what needs to be done to make Indigenous women safer.
Whitman shared some of the recommended measures her association submitted to Ottawa as it develops the plan. They include a new investigative unit for cold cases and a database monitoring the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
“The tabling of the first version of the national action plan will not stop the violence overnight but I am confident it will start us down the road to creating a country that is a safer place for Indigenous women,” Whitman said.
The Ontario Native Women’s Association also published a report Sunday detailing its recommendations for ending the violence.
Those recommendations include investment in local programs supporting mothers involved with the child welfare system, better data collection about human trafficking and development of culturally sensitive victims’ sevices.