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'I want people to feel inspired': Cree woman shares story at inquiry into treatment of Indigenous people

​A Whapmagoostui woman from the James Bay region of Quebec is hoping her story encourages people to stand 'strong together' and engage with a provincial inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Inquiry launched in Quebec about how Indigenous people are treated by police, doctors

Natasia Mukash says in May 2016, she was discriminated against by hospital staff in Val d'Or, a community about 530 kilometres north of Montreal, after being medevaced there while having a miscarriage. (Saige Mukash)

​A Whapmagoostui woman from the James Bay region of Quebec is hoping her story encourages people to stand "strong together" and engage with a provincial inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Natasia Mukash says in May 2016, she was discriminated against by hospital staff in Val d'Or, a community about 530 kilometres north of Montreal — and a hub for many Cree in small communities — after being medevaced there while having a miscarriage. 

"I want people to feel inspired by saying, 'Yes, I can do this, I can speak up and I can make a change," said Mukash,

Last week, Mukash shared her story with the commission of the provincial inquiry, which is gearing up for its first set of hearings this June.

The inquiry's mandate leans on three words: "écoute, réconciliation et progrès", translated in English to "listen, reconciliation and progress."

"It's not just me who is going to make a change; it has to be a collective, it has to be a lot of people," Mukash said.

'We need people to participate'

The two-year inquiry in Quebec was launched in December 2016 with a focus on how Indigenous communities across the province are treated by various public services, including the police, justice and correctional services, youth protection as well as the health care system. 

The inquiry had its first press conference, pictured here, in March. (Vincent Desjardins/Radio-Canada)

It was launched after months of public pressure in the aftermath of a Radio-Canada investigation by the french-language program Enquête, where several Indigenous women in Val d'Or came forward alleging provincial police officers abused them. 

Christian Leblanc, the prosecutor in chief of the commission, says their door is "full-open" to people like Mukash, who feel they have not been treated well by these public services. The commission is limiting its work to the last 15 years.

"Our recommendations are going to be good only if people talk to us," said Leblanc. "I strongly believe there is historical context right now that is open to real change and we could do our part.

"For that we need people to participate. It's not going to work unless regular citizens, native citizens of Quebec, contact us and tell us their story."

'I was in pain. I was alone'

Mukash initially filed a complaint with the Cree Board of Health and Social Services and with the Val d'Or hospital back in 2016.

She says that's when she overheard nurses at the hospital saying she would not be seeing a doctor and would have to go to a hotel, despite being in extreme pain after 10 days of bleeding due to a miscarriage.

Mukash says the nurses were treating her differently than the other non-Indigenous patients at the hospital, until they learned she was fluent in French.

"I was sure that nurse was going to call security to drag me out of there because I was hysterical," said Mukash. "I was in pain. I was alone. Nobody should have to go through that ever, ever again." 

Mukash says it was difficult to share the details of what happened to her publicly, but she's determined to see some good come from her experience.

Locals to collect stories in communities 

The commission has hired a coordinator for Indigenous communities, Janet Mark, who's Cree and from Senneterre, Que., as well as a coordinator of Aboriginal Programs at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT).

Janet Mark has been hired by commission as coordinator of relations with Indigenous communities. (CBC)

It's also planning to hire local people to travel to the communities to collect stories in Indigenous languages.

The registration deadline for groups to become "full participants" during the inquiry is Apr. 27.

Being a full participant means groups such as the Cree Nation government, Cree Board of Health and Social Services or police force — to name a few — will have the right to be represented by a lawyer, to cross examine witnesses and to receive a copy of the final recommendations, among other benefits.

So far, only Quebec Native Women Inc. has registered.

with files from Christopher Herodier and Jaime Little

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