I am a doctor.
I grew up without ever seeing a single Indigenous person in my daily life. I did not see their arts, rarely heard their music or language, I did not play with their children. Yet, I knew there was an “us” that looked like me, and a “them” hanging somewhere in old-fashioned images of longhouses, teepees and feathers. Like many, I watched dozens of news reports on “problems of Aboriginals” (when it wasn’t the “Aboriginal problem”). My sister was born during the Oka Crisis, I paid attention to grown-ups’ conversations, saw the cartoons and listened to Kashtin.
I am a doctor. In fact, I am now the family doctor of 550 people who live in the Atikamekw community of Manawan. I had the chance and privilege to train here with them.
On September 28, patients from the community sent me messages, and then the videos. The horror. The horror that we all now know. Like many, I am deeply shaken by the tragic death of Joyce Echaquan. People are crying out – and rightly so – that racism is built into the health-care system, pointing to the inaction of governments, looking for those to blame and shame.
WATCH: Coroner launches inquiry into the death of Joyce Echaquan. Story continues below.
But I can’t escape the idea, as the saying goes, that when you point your finger, there are still three of them pointing back at you. Yes, there is systemic racism, but there is also internalized racism built over a lifetime. A racism that is not unique to Quebec — it is the history of the entire country.
Since Joyce Echaquan’s death, I have been remembering dozens of conversations with patients and families at the Manawan dispensary who begged me – who negotiated – not to be “sent down” to the hospital in Joliette, Que., for fear of the care, of the reception, of not being understood, of not being heard, of being denigrated. To live with racism, again.
And I always reassured, explained. Sometimes, I would simply say that I had no choice....