UMFM is currently in the midst of some special programming practices due to COVID, please read the update below or follow our socials for the latest updates!

Listen Live

On-air now: Bang & Whisper 1:00pm–2:00pm

Up next: Pastoral MIDI 2:00pm–3:00pm

Program Directory

Talking Radical Radio

Samir Sha­heen-Hus­sain is a pedi­atric emer­gency physi­cian who prac­tices in Mon­tréal and an assis­tant pro­fes­sor in the Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine at McGill Uni­ver­si­ty. He also played a cen­tral role in the #aHand2Hold cam­paign, which won a vic­to­ry against one aspect of med­ical colo­nial­ism in Que­bec in 2018. Scott Neigh inter­views him about his new book, Fight­ing for a Hand to Hold: Con­fronting Med­ical Colo­nial­ism against Indige­nous Chil­dren in Cana­da, and about both the broad­er his­to­ry and present real­i­ty of med­ical colo­nial­ism in this country.

It’s often not appre­ci­at­ed by the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of colo­nial­ism – mean­ing, among many oth­er peo­ple around the world, white set­tler Cana­di­ans – how all-encom­pass­ing and world-shap­ing the colo­nial process has been. Prac­ti­cal­ly every aspect of our social world has been, at one point or anoth­er, swept into active com­plic­i­ty in col­o­niza­tion and, in that process, been pro­found­ly shaped by col­o­niza­tion. This is true not only of state insti­tu­tions but pret­ty much every­thing else too. And because of this pro­found and unre­solved lega­cy shap­ing how our world works today, colo­nial harms (and active com­plic­i­ty in them) con­tin­ue all around us. This week’s show explores this specif­i­cal­ly with respect to the role that the med­ical estab­lish­ment has played in geno­cide and col­o­niza­tion in Cana­da – that is, med­ical colonialism.

Sha­heen-Hus­sain first start­ed real­ly think­ing about med­ical colo­nial­ism because of his involve­ment in a cam­paign against one very spe­cif­ic aspect of it. For decades, it was the prac­tice of the Que­bec gov­ern­ment agency Évac­u­a­tions aéromédi­cales du Québec to pre­vent care­givers from accom­pa­ny­ing sick and injured chil­dren on emer­gency med­ical evac­u­a­tion flights from north­ern and remote areas to urban hos­pi­tals. This was high­ly trau­mat­ic for both care­givers and chil­dren, med­ical­ly unwise, and not con­sis­tent with best prac­tices in pedi­atric emer­gency med­i­cine. It had the most severe impacts on Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in the north­ern part of the province, not only because of the great phys­i­cal dis­tances involved, but because of the con­text of long colo­nial his­to­ries of a whole range of gov­ern­ment author­i­ties tak­ing chil­dren from those communities.

There had been a num­ber of attempts over three decades by com­mu­ni­ties and med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers to get this prac­tice changed. It was only through the #aHand2Hold cam­paign that the prac­tice was ulti­mate­ly end­ed in 2018. (Sha­heen-Hus­sain will talk about the cam­paign a bit in this inter­view, but to hear about it in more detail, check out the rel­e­vant episode of Talk­ing Rad­i­cal Radio from Feb­ru­ary 2019.)

After wit­ness­ing gross expres­sions of anti-Indige­nous racism from promi­nent Que­bec politi­cians in the course of the cam­paign, as well as ongo­ing denial of the exis­tence of sys­temic racism, Sha­heen-Hus­sain decid­ed to use this expe­ri­ence as the basis for writ­ing a book. Fight­ing for a Hand to Hold was pub­lished in 2020 by McGill-Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty Press. The book includes a fore­word by Cindy Black­stock, a Gitk­san woman, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the First Nations Child and Fam­i­ly Car­ing Soci­ety, and renowned advo­cate for Indige­nous chil­dren, and an after­word by well-known Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel.

The book begins from an account of the #aHand2Hold cam­paign. It uses that as a jump­ing off point to take up much larg­er ques­tions. A key point made through­out the book is that health care inequal­i­ties fol­low the fault lines of soci­etal injus­tices” (47). With that in mind, the book explores dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing about health that rec­og­nize how pow­er­ful­ly it is shaped by unjust social rela­tions like cap­i­tal­ism, colo­nial­ism, and sys­temic racism. It also exam­ines sys­temic prob­lems with­in the cul­ture of med­ical professions.

The core of the book takes up the Unit­ed Nations Con­ven­tion on the Pre­ven­tion and Pun­ish­ment of the Crime of Geno­cide and uses it as a frame­work to offer a very clear and acces­si­ble explo­ration of the his­to­ry of med­ical colo­nial­ism in Cana­da – includ­ing how it has con­tributed to aspects of col­o­niza­tion that meet every ele­ment of the orig­i­nal UN def­i­n­i­tion of geno­cide. The book con­cludes with a dis­cus­sion of what kinds of change we need to deal with the ongo­ing real­i­ties of med­ical colo­nial­ism in the present, both broad­er social changes like the return of land to Indige­nous nations and space for their full self-deter­mi­na­tion, and spe­cif­ic changes with­in the med­ical system.