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.
“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)
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.