MONTREAL -- With the holding of a public inquiry into the disturbing circumstances surrounding the death of Joyce Echaquan, I allowed myself a glimmer of hope.

I thought that racism toward members of our communities in the health care system would finally be exposed and proven.

After the many reports and commissions that have denounced situations of systemic racism, I thought the widespread shockwave caused by the death of our sister Joyce would, at last, lead to collective awareness.

I dared to believe that we would be, as a society, at a turning point in breaking the silence that too often has enveloped the tragic situations that our people live.

But, after the disturbing testimony before Coroner Géhane Kamel from those who should have been taking care of Joyce, I must confess I have doubts.

Of course, it was to be expected that there would be difficult moments at these hearings.

One had to be prepared to hear some people not fully accept responsibility for the dire consequences of their actions.

On the other hand, what has come to light publicly in the last two weeks confirms what Judge Jacques Viens heard at his inquiry.

I am not at all surprised.

The denial of racism and its consequences is disturbing. This denial is dangerous and it hides too easily under the insidious, superficial reasoning “Let’s not talk about it so it doesn’t divide us further.”

Yet, many have acknowledged the existence of systemic racism in the health care system.

Others insist that this reality does not exist, that there are only a few isolated cases.

Are we to understand, then, that before the necessary, radical measures are taken, we have to accumulate reported, videotaped and documented cases of racism?

I would like to think not, even if several witnesses came dangerously close trivializing the situation.

There is reason to be indignant, despite our resilience as Indigenous peoples, in the face of the unspeakable.

Racism is first and foremost a defect of the mind. Actions don't need to be taken for people to suffer. In this sense, paradoxically, inaction can also be a racist act.

I wonder whether the reality of racism is something that can be seen and felt by citizens who are not victims of it.

Especially worrisome is the huge gap between the testimony of health care system users and that of health network personnel to the effect that this reality is completely unknown to them.

Do some workplaces have provisions that make the people who work there see reality only through the lens of obscurantism?

But it does exist.

Last March, Indigenous civil servants denounced, anonymously for fear of retaliation, situations of hostility toward them within the departments they work for.

The report on the reality of policing in Quebec, released last week, revealed that a much higher proportion of Indigenous and ethnic minority police officers report having witnessed acts of racism within police services than do their colleagues.

Just last Friday, the Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse recognized and denounced the systemic racism and discrimination experienced by Indigenous people, including in the health care system.

If we took the time and effort, there would probably be more than one solution.

I would like to propose one.

Inspiring practices guided by respect exist. We must talk about them. We must multiply them, put into practice these collective and individual gestures of respect for our peoples, to support the efforts of institutions that are making the shift to providing cultural safety.

Let us recognize the courage of the institutions and organizations that associate their name with Joyce’s Principle. This is the goal we must aim for.

As the coroner’s inquiry concludes — despite the outrage and anger, and knowing that the tragic death of our sister Joyce could have been prevented — I believe that a willingness to make the changes that are needed, both in our minds and in our hearts, is the answer.

Ghislain Picard is chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.