A History of Silence

Examining aboriginal deaths in prison.

By now, most Canadians are acutely aware of the disadvantages, suffering and neglect experienced by our country’s indigenous communities. In Dying from Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody, Sherene Razack, a professor in the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, has produced an uncomfortable but valuable account of the suffering and deaths of many indigenous people who were arrested, frequently beaten by the police and left in perilous circumstances after being dumped in freezing alleys or country roadsides. Others, desperately ill, died in police cells when they should have been in hospitals.

Razack defines the conflict between what she calls “the white settler society” and Canada’s “Indigenous society”—especially when it comes to the way indigenous people are treated in custody. It makes for painful reading, but she...