The death of Joyce Echaquan in Joliette on September 28th unveiled racism against First Nations, in the Quebec health-care system particularly. In Kahnawake, where the residents are mostly treated at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC), there was no surprise when the video of the Atikamekw woman who was mistreated and insulted by nurses was published, but the Mohawk community was still outraged.
”This tragedy was caught on camera, which was the only reason it reached the audience it did. No doubt, there are many similar if not worse, incidents that go unreported or brushed aside by the establishments”, expresses Lynda Delisle, Director of Support Services at the KMHC.
For her, one of the ways to address racism is through education at all levels.
“Exposure, see ourselves as professionals in health-care, something as simple as First Nation art in buildings would send a message of acceptance. It isn’t solely up to First Nations to push these initiatives, we’ve never stopped”, she insists.
Lynda Delisle adds that Kahnawakeronon could provide “horror stories on their treatment in health-care facilities”.
She names a few examples like language “which could be used as a weapon”, delays in service, subtle changes in behaviour once it becomes apparent that the individual if a First Nation member like “no more eye contact and rolling of eyes if you can’t understand what is being said”.
”With her dying breath, Ms. Echaquan struggled to expose the racism that First Nations experience in the health-care system.”
-Lynda Delisle, Director of Support Services at the KMHC
Their own hospital
Kahnawake has had a hospital on its territory since 1905.
“In the beginning, the climate was very patronizing, on the part of the missionaries running the facility, but as the years went on, Kahnawakeronon’s desire to respond to the need or our community within our community propelled us to work tirelessly to ensure this goal was, indeed, realized”, tells Lynda Delisle.
In 1984, a Nation-to-Nation agreement was signed between the Kahnawake Mohawk community and the Quebec Government under René Lévesque, ensuring that Quebec would provide the annual budget required to operate the hospital.
According to her, when Kahnawake residents are being treated at the KMHC, “they are home, they are comfortable, they are familiar with the surroundings, the staff and the language”.
There is a real sense of pride to have a hospital centre on First Nations territory, built by our men and staffed by community members, she emphasizes.
Treatment outside of the territory
For surgeries and some emergencies, Kahnawakeronon are treated elsewhere, mainly at Anna-Laberge Hospital in Châteauguay, or Charles-Lemoyne and Pierre-Boucher Hospitals in Longueuil. Historically, they were treated in Montreal in English-speaking health establishments and many continue to seek out healthcare there for language reasons. The change in corridors of service for healthcare directs residents of Kahnawake on the south shore by default, explains Lynda Delisle.
Whenever Mohawk community members have to be transferred, “there is a certain amount of apprehension” and anxiety, she confirms.
“It is a combination of the seriousness of their health condition warranting a transfer and the unknown of how they will be treated. It is believed by the dominant society that we get a “free ride” when it comes to a number of services, i.e., transportation, medication, and this may translate into retaliation from caregivers”, she details.
Lynda Delisle confides that there is a good relationship between the KMHC and other hospitals.
“KMHC has actively reached out to the provincial health authorities, as well as those within the Montérégie; encouraging progress has been made and continues”, she says adding that the KMHC practice openness as well, by accepting non-community members as patients, “resources permitting”.
Jade St-Jean, spokesperson for the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de la Montérégie-Ouest (CISSSMO), explains that they are two First Nations communities from Akwesasne and Kahnawake on its territory.
« Our establishment developed good relations with both communities and communicates with them regularly, especially during the COVID period, during which exchanges intensified », she affirms.
A responsable from the CISSSMO is assigned to First Nations cases. Official meetings take place once or twice a year. During the last year, members of the direction visited the health facilities in Akwesasne and Kahnawake, which helped understanding their reality and support them, according to Jade St-Jean.
She adds that professionals from the CISSSMO also collaborates with members of the First Nations communities on specific clinic projects. A program to access services in English was recently put in place.
No answers from the Government
After the tragic event involving Joyce Echequan, Lynda Delisle considers that the Government didn’t answer.
“Premier Legault refuses to acknowledge systemic racism in Quebec and Quebec’s Minister of Indian Affairs was nowhere to be seen”, she deplores.
To her, “there is no choice but to recognize the racism in health-care, there are daily examples; still awaiting on the Viens Report”.