A First Nation is voicing anger and frustration after the province rejected a proposal for better health care access for Indigenous people because it would mean acknowledging the existence of systemic racism in Quebec

The Atikamekw Nation presented the proposal called "Joyce’s Principle" to the province on November 16. On November 24, a motion was presented by Liberal MP Gregory Kelley to recognize and apply the principle, a motion which was rejected, seemingly because it explicitly calls for a clear acknowledgment of systemic racism by the state.*

It’s named after Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Indigenous mother of seven who recorded a disturbing video of hospital staff hurling insults and racial slurs at her as she lay dying in a Joliette hospital bed in September.

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The government's responses remind us that the political will is not there.

Manawan Chief Paul-Émile Ottawa

"On September 28, 2020, my wife, the mother of my children, was torn from us in inhumane circumstances that we have all witnessed," said Carol Dubé, Joyce’s spouse, in a statement.

The viral video led to the firing of two hospital employees, a coroner's inquiry, and an apology from Premier François Legault.

But the Atikamekw Nation said the incident revealed a deeper problem: the province’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in Quebec, according to a November 26 news release from the Atikamekw Council of Manawan (CDAM) and the Atikamekw Nation Council (CNA).

“Despite the efforts made by our community to bring simple and concrete solutions that will help build trust with the health care system, the government's responses remind us that the political will is not there," said Manawan Chief Paul-Émile Ottawa, in a statement.

In a press conference on November 24, Quebec's minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, Ian Lafrenière, said that while he appreciates the work behind Joyce's Principle, "there's one point on which we don't agree: when we talk about systemic racism, we don't have the same vision."

Joyce’s Principle calls for a number of changes, including the establishment of an ombudsperson's office for Indigenous health, awareness campaigns to educate the public on Indigenous issues and changes to the way the government finances health and social services in Indigenous communities.

*This article has been updated.

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