Pierre Paul Niquay, left, Viviane Echaquan Armand Echaquan family of Lorianna Echaquan at the inquiry Monday. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
Lorianna Echaquan was two and a half months old when she caught pneumonia and was brought to a hospital three hours away from her home in the Atikamekw First Nation of Manawan.
That was in 1973 – her family hasn’t seen her since.
“He believes that his daughter is still alive and that there was an exchange of babies,” said Pierre Paul Niquay translating the Atikamekw testimony for Lorainne’s father, Arnaud Echaquan.
“He’s still waiting for his baby to come back and see her family.”
The Echaquan family was the first to testify Monday at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Maliotenam First Nation, about 900 km northeast of Montreal.
They spoke of how Lorianna had died upon arrival at the hospital but the family was only alerted to the fact a month later.
When they saw her body, they doubted it was her.
“What my mother told me was that when she saw the baby in the casket, it didn’t seem to be her own baby,” said Viviane Echaquan, Lorianne’s sister.
“What my mother said to me when we arrived at the funeral home, is ‘that’s not my baby because my baby is small.’”
(Alain Arsenault at the Maliotenam hearings. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
Inquiry lawyer Alain Arsenault said that there will be a lot of these stories at these hearings.
“These are stories that we’re only beginning to understand in Quebec,” said Arsenault.
“We always said that the 60’s scoop didn’t happen in Quebec, but I think we are about to show that, yes, it did happen in Quebec and this morning is the first case of an Atikamekw family, but there will be others, of Innu families and more.”
Inquiry commissioner Michèle Audette agreed that this week’s inquiry will have an emphasis on the “missing” part of their mandate.
“Stolen children, or children that got sick and went to the hospital with their mum, and never came back. We thought there was just a few of them, but there’s maybe, 30, 40, 50 of them in this [Innu] nation.
Audette says she is taking strength from having this week’s inquiry in her home community of Maliotenam, although there are challenges as well.
“When I was in the room yesterday [for the opening ceremonies] and I mentioned having some of my first experiences here, mostly good ones came to my mind, but there are some dark ones that came too,” said Audette, who has spoken of being abused in the past. “ I went to go see an elder to get grounded.”
Audette’s experiences of abuse are not unique here.
The Innu First Nations of northeastern Quebec, or Nitassian as they call their territory, struggle with high rates of suicide as well as sexual and physical abuse.
Monday’s second testimony by Innu Deborah Einish of Matimekush First Nation provided a harrowing example.
“There was cement all around, closed up like a dungeon. I was banging the bars, ‘what am doing here? What am I doing in this cell, confined?’ There was a cop with a pill. There were pills. They brought a cot. When I woke up, I was raped, the police officers raped me, I had taken those pills” said Einish sobbing.
“My pants were down to my knees. I was pregnant.”
Einish said in 1980 police officers in Schefferville, Que. had handcuffed her outside of a bar after there had been a fight that she said didn’t involve her.
From there she was brought to a cell where the alleged rape took place.
“I kept this to myself for 37 years, I was not ready to talk about what happened,” said Einish, who did recently speak to a crown prosector but was told there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges.
“I would like to be well at one point. I’m furious with the police because they never listened to me. I think there are many women who have kept this to themselves.”
Einish’s was proven correct in the very next hearing.
(Lise Jourdain testifying at the Maliotenam hearings Monday. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
Lise Jourdain, an Innu woman, also spoke of being raped by a police officer in Schefferville.
“I attempted suicides three times, the last one left me in coma for three days,” said Jourdain, who described how it took years before she could face what happened to her and why she’s chosen to speak out.
“I am bringing up girls, no I can no longer be silent, I can’t close my eyes and ears with regards to what’s happening,” Jourdain stresses.
Sixty people are expected to be heard from now until Friday, December 1.