When it comes to North America’s indigenous people and academic militancy, one name stands out: Ward Churchill. Love him or hate him, he’s hard to ignore. His arguments are beyond controversial but thoroughly researched, both of which tend to infuriate opponents. He speaks simply, but with unapologetic militarism – he’s a card-carrying member of the American Indian Movement and one of Leonard Peltier’s most vocal supporters. His books and essays have been arguably even more influential (and outrageous), covering a wide range of topics relating to indigenous peoples and liberation, including notorious works like Pacifism as Pathology, The COINTELPRO Papers, A Little Matter of Genocide and Struggle for the Land

These opinions have earned Churchill many enemies and provoked an almost endless series of scandals. The best known these days relates to an essay (later a book-length manuscript) entitled “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens”, which addressed the 9/11 attacks. In it he addressed the legacy of American imperialism and questioned the innocence of those in the Twin Towers, calling them technocrats and comparing them to Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann. Like him, Churchill argued, those working in high finance and other crucial bureaucratic roles play an crucial role in the death-toll exacted by American wars, even if they never personally see the bodies. As you can imagine, this point wasn’t well-received, and it evoked a fire-storm of academic scandal in the media.

Perhaps his most notable argument, and certainly the most relevant these days, is the contention that the colonization of North America constitutes genocide. A Little Matter of Genocide is one of the best-known works on the subject (I highly recommend it), and while the argument is fairly-well accepted today (even by Canadian judges), it’s also made a lot of waves. He asks, for instance, why those who died from disease amongst the overcrowding, overwork and poor nutrition at Dachau are counted among the victims, but not those who died from similar causes during the Trail of Tears? Given policies like residential schools (clearly genocidal under international law), hunting the buffalo to near-extinction and scalp bounties, as well as countless documents explicitly mentioning “extermination”, it’s hard to deny that a concerted effort was made by governments of the time to destroy native societies in every sense of the word.

I could go on. Pacifism as Pathology demands an article of its own, as does the plight of Leonard Peltier and history of AIM. Whatever you think of Ward, his work has long-since become required reading on these subjects (even when I took them at University). Tonight’s lectures are speeches by Ward on his usual subjects, and are worth watching if only for the fire and passion with which he speaks. The last one, in particular, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”, which deals with American and Canadian residential schooling, seems especially pertinent these days.

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