Indigenous leaders not impressed with the Quebec healthcare bill

A group supporting the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) met in Montreal’s Mont Royal Park for a spirit walk to raise funds and build reconciliation in the city.

The goal is to raise money for a retreat for women and children at the shelter.

“It’s a spiritual retreat with ceremonies and different elders and facilitators who come and offer tools. Nobody goes to a shelter because they want to,” said shelter executive director Nakuset.

This year’s walk coincides with Indigenous leaders’ reaction to the Quebec government’s Bill 32 (Loi instaurant l’approche de sécurisation culturelle au sein du réseau de la santé et des services sociaux), which would establish cultural safety approaches towards Indigenous people within the health and social services network.

It was presented by Minister Responsible for Relations with First Nations and Inuit Ian Lafreniere on Friday.

The Chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) said in a news release that they welcome some advances but are also disappointed with how the bill was tabled.

The AFNQL said it has told Lafreniere that it is the Indigenous communities’ responsibility to “define and ensure respect for their cultural safety,” not the Quebec government.

“The Legault government is acting opportunistically by having the audacity to refer to Joyce’s Principle in the preamble of the bill even as it persists in denying one of its foundations: the recognition of systemic racism,” said AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard. “The government’s approach is contradictory and cannot lead to a genuine awareness of the realities and thus the achievement of cultural safety.”

Joyce’s Principle is named after Joyce Echequan, who died in 2020 at the Joleitte Hospital while being mocked by hospital staff, who were caught on video.

The principle is a call to action inspired by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which, among other calls, asks the government “to recognize the systemic racism faced by Indigenous people when attempting to access social and health services .”

The Quebec premiere has repeatedly refused to recognize this.

The director of Kahnawake’s community services Derek Montour, said the amendment to the professional code is something that Indigenous people have been requesting for over a decade, but that the new bill does not remove language barriers or “recognize traditional knowledge.”

“A safer practice would be to have access to services in the desired language in health and social services institutions,” he said.