Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada | Left Wing Books


Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada

288 pages
$22.19 (USD)

An exploration of anti-Indigenous systemic racism in Canadian health care, medical violence inflicted upon Indigenous children, and the medical establishment’s role in colonial genocide.



Launched by healthcare providers in January 2018, the #aHand2Hold campaign confronted the Quebec government’s practice of separating children from their families during medical evacuation airlifts, which disproportionately affected remote and northern Indigenous communities. Pediatric emergency physician Samir Shaheen-Hussain’s captivating narrative of this successful campaign, which garnered unprecedented public attention and media coverage, seeks to answer lingering questions about why such a cruel practice remained in place for so long. By focusing on the structural drivers of the social determinants of health, this book serves as an indispensable case study of contemporary medical colonialism in Quebec, and demonstrates that inequalities in health care follow the fault lines of societal injustices. 

Fighting for A Hand to Hold exposes the Canadian medical establishment’s role in the displacement, colonization, and genocide of Indigenous Peoples — colonial genocide. Through meticulously gathered government documentation, historical scholarship, media reports, public inquiries, and personal testimonies, Shaheen-Hussain connects the draconian medevac practice with often-disregarded crimes committed against and medical violence inflicted upon Indigenous children across the country for more than a century and a half: fomented smallpox epidemics and avoidable tuberculosis deaths; experiments and abuse in residential schools, Indian Hospitals, reserves, and communities; forced sterilization; child abduction and disappearances.  This devastating history and ongoing medical colonialism prevent Indigenous communities from attaining internationally recognized measures of health and social well-being because of a pervasive culture of systemic anti-Indigenous racism that persists in the Canadian public health care system— and in capitalist settler society at large. 

Shaheen-Hussain’s unique perspective combines his experience as a frontline pediatrician with his long-standing involvement in anti-authoritarian social justice movements. Sparked by the indifference and callousness of those in power, this book draws on the innovative work of Indigenous scholars and activists to conclude that a broader decolonization struggle calling for reparations, restitution (including land reclamation), and self-determination for Indigenous Peoples is critical to achieve reconciliation in Canada. 

Fighting for A Hand to Hold is part of McGill-Queen's University Press's Indigenous and Northern Series. 

All author royalties from sales of this book will be redirected to groups and initiatives that support Indigenous self-determination, and that are concerned with the health and wellness of Indigenous children and youth: Eagle Spirit Science Futures camp, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Groundswell Community Justice Trust Fund, Minnie’s Hope Social Pediatric Centre, Mohawk Language Custodian Association, and Native Women's Shelter of Montreal. Proceeds from hand sales at public events will go to Indigenous land-defence initiatives and resurgence movements. Lux Éditeur will publish a French translation of the book in early 2021.


What People Are Saying

"Heartbroken. This is how I feel after reading Fighting for a Hand to Hold. It hurts to read about children suffering. Shaheen-Hussain's book does not relieve that pain. Yet his words hold the potential to help us create broader healing, if his insights are heeded." John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in indigenous Law, University of Victoria Law School

"A sick child is transported by plane to a hospital 1000 kilometres away /alone and without a parent to accompany the child, a state practice without pity. No parent can read this and not feel a sharp pain yet so many managed to defend the practice even when the mothers of the children who died alone en route publicly grieved that they were never able to give comfort to their dying children. This is the racial terror that was aimed at Indigenous peoples in the province of Quebec. This book tells the story of the fight to change what so clearly springs from the annihilative impulse at the heart of settler colonialism. What can we learn from this book about the struggle to abolish the practice? This practice was no mere discriminatory residue of an old colonial system long gone. Instead it is a telling sign of an ongoing settler colonialism, one deeply structured to "disappear Indians"  and to declare Indigenous lives as worth less than white ones. Samir Shaheen-Hussain's clear-eyed account reminds us that we can change but not until we recognize this ugly truth." Sherene H. Razack, Distinguished Professor and Penny Kanner Endowed Chair in Gender Studies, UCLA. Author of Dying From Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody


About the Author and Contributors

Samir Shaheen-Hussain has been involved in social justice movements – including Indigenous solidarity, anti-police brutality and migrant-justice organizing – for almost two decades. He is a member of the Caring for Social Justice Collective, and has written or co-written several pieces about state violence and health care over the years. He is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University and works as a pediatric emergency physician in Tio’tia:ke (Montreal).

Cindy Blackstock, a member of the Gitxsan First Nation, serves as the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and is a professor in the School of Social Work at McGill University. Her interests are culturally based equity, Indigenous child rights and systemic advocacy.

Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel is a Kanien’kehá:ka human rights and environmental activist-artist. She was chosen by the People of the Longhouse and her community of Kanehsatà:ke to be their spokesperson during the 1990 “Oka” Crisis. For three decades, Ellen has consistently advocated for climate justice and Indigenous Peoples' self-determination, cultural, and language rights, while opposing violence against Indigenous women.