Structures of Indifference
An Indigenous Life and Death in a Canadian City
Structures of Indifference examines an Indigenous life and death in a Canadian city and what it reveals about the ongoing history of colonialism. At the heart of this story is a thirty-four-hour period in September 2008. During that day and half Brian Sinclair, a middle-aged, non-Status Anishinaabeg resident of Manitoba’s capital city, arrived in the emergency room of the Health Sciences Centre, Winnipeg’s major downtown hospital, was left untreated and unattended to, and ultimately died from an easily treatable infection. His death reflects a particular structure of indifference born of and maintained by colonialism.
McCallum and Perry present the ways in which Sinclair, once erased and ignored, came to represent diffuse, yet singular and largely dehumanized ideas about Indigenous people, modernity, and decline in cities. This
story tells us about ordinary indigeneity in the city of Winnipeg through Sinclair’s experience and restores the complex humanity denied him in his interactions with Canadian health and legal systems, both before and after his death.
Structures of Indifference completes the story left untold by the inquiry into Sinclair’s death, the 2014 report of which omitted any consideration of underlying factors, including racism and systemic discrimination.
- WINNER, Indigenous History Prize, Canadian Historical Association (2019)
- WINNER, Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction, Manitoba Book Awards (2019)
- NOMINEE, Manuela Dias Design and Illustration Award, Manitoba Book Awards (2019)
- SELECTION, Scholarly Typographic, the Association of University Presses' Book, Jacket & Journal Show (2019)
“You can’t really sugarcoat the colonial genealogy that killed Brian Sinclair. Structures of Indifference is a necessary book. It offers a short, direct framing of the death of Brian Sinclair as a clear instance of racism, a racism that is the basis of Canadian settler colonialism.”
– Sherene H. Razack, UCLA, author of Dying from Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody.
“Yesterday, I read Mary Jane Logan McCallum and Adele Perry’s Structures of Indifference in one sitting. It makes Brian Sinclair’s unbelievable 2008 death by racist negligence in a Winnipeg hospital emergency room completely believable. Historians, read this book.”
– Karen Dubinsky, Department of History, Queen’s University.
“A short book with a very big story of the continuing effects of settler values, policies, and laws. Brian Sinclair’s death did not happen in a vacuum.”
– Myra Tait, co-editor of Surviving Canada: Indigenous People Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayal.
“McCallum and Perry dive into the dark stain of colonial history in Canada by ripping off the Band-Aid and exposing the racist truth. From Indian Residential Schools, treaties policies designed to promote genocide, to how Winnipeg was settled, this book shows how those structures were set up to fail people like Brian Sinclair.”
– Daniel Mendoza, Anishinabek News (Link)
“This is a small book, less than 200 pages, but it has a compelling thesis. […] One is to hope that this book is another nail in the coffin of colonialism’s impact on Indigenous people in Canada.”
– Earl Waugh, University of Alberta, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies
“In a Canadian hospital in 2008, an Indigenous man was left untreated and unattended for 34 hours and died of an easily treatable infection. A subsequent inquest wrestled with whether to examine systemic racism against Indigenous peoples as a contributing factor in Brian Sinclair’s death, or to focus solely on operational or procedural failures. The historian-authors use inquest documents as their primary archive to analyze how legal processes narrowly define and interpret events to effectively obscure the violence of contemporary settler colonialism. The book situates a global and pervasive history of dispossession and marginalization within a local and specific story of one Indigenous life. McCallum and Perry argue that “health care is not only, and sometimes not even primarily about biomedicine—it is also about assimilation and integration into the Canadian nation state and the annulment of treaty rights and responsibilities, as well as erasure of Indigenous autonomy, identity and ways of life.” A key success is that the authors never lose sight of Sinclair’s complex humanity as a man and family member, and as an urban Indigenous community member within an institution, city, province, and country that too often dehumanizes and ignores Indigenous peoples.”
– G. Bruyere, University of Lethbridge, CHOICE (Link)
“An accessible resource, providing undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, historians, and members of the general public a deep and careful study of what the life and death of one man can tell us about the deadly legacy and troubling contemporary prevalence of racism in the Canadian healthcare system.”
– Karen Ella McCallum, Bridgewater State University, American Review of Canadian Studies
About the Authors
Mary Jane Logan McCallum, of the Munsee Delaware Nation, is an professor in the Department of History, University of Winnipeg and is the author of Indigenous Women, Work, and History, 1940–1980.
Adele Perry is a Professor of History at the University of Manitoba. She is the author of Aqueduct: Colonialism, Resources, and the Histories We Remember.