An open invitation to address anti-Indigenous systemic racism


In a recently published article in the Lancet, An open invitation to address anti-Indigenous systemic racism, Dr. Margo Greenwood, VP Indigenous Health, reviews Fighting for a hand to hold: Confronting medical colonialism against Indigenous children in Canada written by paediatric emergency physician Dr. Samir Shaheen-Hussain.

The volume details the Canadian medical establishment’s role in the displacement, colonization, and human rights violations resulting in multigenerational health inequities in Indigenous Peoples. The book examines some of the impacts of medical colonialism on the lives of young Indigenous people through meticulous research of government documents, historical scholarship, media reports, personal testimonies, and public inquiries to detail the injustice of medical evacuation airlifts (i.e., medevacs). Specifically, the author explores instances of medevacs which occurred from 2017-2018 in Northern rural and remote Québec in which Indigenous children were airlifted to southern parts of the province to receive health care services but were not allowed to be accompanied by either a loved one or health care professional. While the book focuses on a specific and recent timeframe, the author demonstrates this non-accompaniment policy is decades-old. The stories of Inuit children being transported on their own away from their families to receive medical care reveals the complexity of historical and contemporary disparities and injustices which continue to negatively impact Indigenous people in Canada’s health care system.

Dr. Greenwood’s review notes “[This] book offers an open invitation to respond to the details of anti-Indigenous systemic racism… Shaheen-Hussain lays bare the atrocities, inequities, and marginalisation that comprise Indigenous children’s, families’, and communities’ ongoing negative experiences with the systems and structures claiming to care for them.”1

Dr. Greenwood reflected on her own learnings and background including her role as a health administrator while reviewing the volume. “This book made me think about how we can create the change that is necessary to address the anti-Indigenous racism of Canada’s past and present2,” writes Dr. Greenwood.

The realities of Indigenous people’s lives conveyed in Shaheen-Hussain’s book along with recently published findings in reports including Reclaiming power and place: the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, In plain sight: addressing Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination in B.C. health care, taken together, demand that Indigenous-specific racism is addressed and eliminated from the health care system.3

In her review, Dr. Greenwood notes she is often asked by health care professionals, “What can I do to create change?”. One way to begin this work is for us to consider the question “What is my sphere of influence?” For example:

  • As parents we can teach our children to celebrate difference. We can teach our children their family history and we can role model respect for difference through our words and actions.4
  • As professionals we can contradict individual racism when we see it. We can stand with others in their fight against anti-Indigenous racism.5

Although we all have different roles and spheres of influence, Dr. Greenwood reminds us that we must not lose sight of the power and resilience of Indigenous peoples. “The increasing number of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s general population, the resurgence of their cultural ways, and their growing presence in colonial systems are testimonies to their strength and fortitude. These strengths are often lost in the pain and sadness of continuing colonial realities. Yet, this is the foundation upon which real change is built.” 6

You can read Dr. Greenwood’s full Lancet article for free.

Visit the Fighting for a hand to hold website to learn more about the book and access interviews with the author.


1Greenwood, M. (2021). An open invitation to address anti-Indigenous systemic racism. The Lancet, 397(10293), 2458-2459.