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Anti-racist reflections: A Canadian in Aotearoa

Hello. My name is Manjeet Birk and I am a Canadian living in Aotearoa since July 2020. I am here as part of a Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) fellowship. In 2019, I completed my PhD dissertation at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada where I looked to uncover systemic racism in feminist non profit organizations and how this impacts the participation and service delivery of racialized and Indigenous girls and women. People often ask me what motivates my work. Global misconceptions fuel comments like: “Canadians are so kind and polite, they are nothing like their American neighbors.” And “Does racism even exist there?”

In order to answer these question I would like to tell you a story. A story about Joyce Eschaquan. Joyce was a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman who lived in Joliette, Québec, about one hour outside of Montréal, Canada’s second largest city. Joyce was a mother of seven who lived in the First Nations Reserve community of Manawan on the South Western shores of Lake Métabeskéga. On September 26th, 2020 Joyce was admitted into the Centre Hopitalier de Lanaudière in Joliette for stomach pains. Joliette is in the province of Québec which is the primarily French province within Canada. Joyce did not speak fluent French and despite the fact she is entitled to receive appropriate health care in either official language in Canada, the language barrier often prevented her from accessing adequate care. Joyce was young at the time of her death, only 37 but she already had vigorous experience with the Québec provincial health authority, she was in and out of care because she had a heart condition that required her to be on a pacemaker. Joyce knew the ins and outs of the ways she has and would be treated at the hospital and as a result she often livestreamed her hospital visits on Facebook so she could have witnesses to the day to day challenges she experienced in the hospital.

On September 28, 2020 two days after she was admitted, Joyce livestreamed her encounter with a nurse, an orderly and other undetermined health care providers. In this interaction Joyce was physically restrained to her hospital bed and was administered morphine, a powerful pain medication, despite her concerns that morphine would negatively interact with her pre-existing health condition. Joyce’s Facebook livestream went on for seven minutes immediately before and after her death, where she can be heard writhing in pain in the final moments of her life. At the same time you can hear the health care providers, who were not aware they were being filmed, hurling racist insults, reinforcing problematic racist stereotypes and blaming her for her condition and pain. For seven minutes this video streams the final moments before Joyce’s death and exemplifies all of the systemic injustices Indigenous women face daily when accessing care on their homelands. Following public outcry and persistent lobbying from Joyce’s family and community the Canadian government has agreed to a public inquiry into her death. Two of the health care providers in the video, a nurse and an orderly have both been fired from the hospital. Joyce Eschaquan’s story highlights a number of problematic concerns about systemic and institutional racism in Canada. Joyce inspires me to work for a transformed Canada and a better world.

While in Auckland, I will be working alongside fellow activist scholars, Dr. Heather Came-Friar and Dr. Jacquie Kidd at the Auckland University of Technology. Over my time here I hope to better understand some of the structural and systemic inequities that exist in and across New Zealand. In addition to reading, writing and networking, I am looking forward to working with STIR on their many important projects.

Are you interested in any of these things? Or want to talk more about institutional racism and social justice? Drop me a line at I would love to hear more about the work that you are doing and the things you think are important for New Zealanders.


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