The University of Winnipeg



Podcast examines structural racism through historical lens

Kent Davies interviews Dr. Mary Jane McCallum in the Oral History Centre's most recent Research Question podcast

Mary Jane Logan McCallum. Photo provided.

In the most recent Research Question podcast Dr. Mary Jane Logan McCallum shares insight into why it’s so important to look to history to understand present day forms of structural racism.

The podcast is written, narrated, and produced by Oral History Centre audio technician Kent Davies, who interviewed McCallum remotely for this episode.

“We used an old radio broadcasting trick called tape sync to make it seem like we were in the studio together,” said Davies.

He says that interviewing McCallum was an eye-opening experience that he is grateful for.

Historical lens shapes understanding

“Her research and insights are tremendously valuable in shaping modern Indigenous history,” said Davies. “It was a challenge to capture both the breadth of her contributions to history while also telling her own story.”

During their discussion, McCallum pointed to the story of Brian Sinclair who she wrote about in the 2018 book, Structures of Indifference: A Life and Death in a Canadian City.

Sinclair was a middle-aged, non-Status Anishinaabe resident of Winnipeg, who arrived in the emergency room of a major downtown hospital in 2008 — and ultimately died from an easily treatable infection after he was left untreated and unattended over a 34-hour period.

“What I’ve learned about structural racism in healthcare, especially with that study on Brian Sinclair, is that we can think through events like this through a historical lens to help us understand the answers when the official answer is not satisfactory,” said McCallum.

Challenging narratives

By using a variety of historical sources to challenge narratives concerning Canadian institutions, McCallum shows how entrenched colonialism is within Canada’s national identity and how a history of colonialism continues to affect Indigenous people. 

McCallum is Canada Research Chair in Indigenous People, History, and Archives. She has spent her academic career examining twentieth century histories of health; documenting the impacts of Canada’s colonial healthcare system on Indigenous people. She is currently working with Dr. Erin Millions to study Indigenous experiences of TB, as captured in historic photographs of TB management including surveying, sanatorium treatment, and rehabilitation. 

“Researchers like Dr. Mary Jane McCallum are making vital contributions to health research and growing our understanding of Indigenous peoples and histories,” said Dr. Jino Distasio, Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “This podcast series provides an innovative way to share vital knowledge with a wider community.”

The Research Question podcast is a collaboration between The University of Winnipeg’s Oral History Centre and the Research Office. It provides an interesting and innovative entry point to help people understand the complex research taking place in the UWinnipeg community.