Ward Churchill Words are Weapons
Ward Churchill, is a Keetoowah Cherokee from the
Southern US. He is a scholar, activist and professor of
ethnic studies at the University of Colorado. The books
he has written and published such as, A Little Matter of
Genocide and, Paci? sm and Pathology, have served
as great resources for native and non-native people on
indigenous issues. Redwire met up with Ward at the
Under The Volcano festival this past August. His words
are dry and academic, but his message is the shit! It
took me two months to transcribe this interview so you
better fricken love it.
The big thing up here now is self-government and
the government giving
us self-government and handing over funding to administer ourselves.
Yeah, we can administer it for ourselves, but not as a third level of their government. Thatís rent thatís due and often we donít want the rent, we want the recovery of the land and the rights over the land that is rightfully ours. They are usurping our rights by occupancy of the land and utilization of the resources, which generates into revenue, and they give a portion of that back
in order to cooperate with the process of our own expropriation. We are not a municipal government, We are nations!
Accommodating the colonizer to perfect the system of
our own colonization, and do so for chump change, is
what it amounts to. I mean, what they derive from our
land and resources is astronomically valuable in their
own terms. Even if their entire budget of the Ministry
of Indian and Northern Affairs would be turned over to
native peoples, itís still chump change. And donít get
sucked into that delusion. Talk about self governance,
when somebody else is prescribing the mode of
government in the latitude of itís authority and the
range of itís prerogative and so on; itís ludicrous, itís not
self government, itís self administration. In other words,
they assign us and have us thanking them for it. Should
we be thankful for positions within the colonial of?ce
to administer ourselves on their behalf? Itís a rouse, a charade, a sham. Itís a scam and conscious people
wonít buy into it.
So one part of it would probably be a strategic
withdrawal until we can get our shit together in terms
of understanding what weíre trying to accomplish by
playing in that arena. Kind of a critical time out, that
letís us assess this situation and put in exactly the right
people we want to represent us. The ones who wonít
smile and collaborate and cooperate but would actually
be abrasive and confront the bureaucrats.
Can you give your own opinion or de? nition of
Well itís not the colonizer coming in and cutting you in
for a greater share of the pie [proceeds of colonization].
Which theyíll do, theyíll try to buy you off. Weíve
created this order now and weíll give you a better
place within it, now that order accrues directly at your
expense. They pass that off by giving you a bread
crust. The dinner plate as being decolonization in
Canada and the United States and thatís all the rhetoric of native self-determination and autonomy bla bla
bla. No, theyíre controlling everything. Theyíre giving
permission to people to administer their own affairs,
within a paradigm thatís allowed by an immigrant
population that has assumed and entitled itself to make
the decisions for us. And weíre given an increasing
right to implement the nature of our own oppression.
They give us a preference working in the system of
how we administer Indian Affairs on behalf of the State.
That makes us self-colonizing, itís the exact opposite
of decolonization. It just completes the process of
It could be the National Congress of American Indians
down in the US. Itíd be the Assembly of First Nations
up here. They can mouth the rhetorical posture of
native rights but ultimately their permission to exist and
their authority to exist as an organization, with some
policy making potential, derives not from their own
people but from Ottawa. Thatís the colonial apparatus
at work. We got to get free of that and create our own
institutions...Nations and sovereign peoples, and act as
a sovereign people. Thats like telling the French how
to achieve their liberation from German occupation is
to vote in their own government representative into the
I was recently in Guatemala and I had a chance to see the indigneous struggle ? rst hand, and thought
to myself that, we donít really have it as bad as
The history is different. Thereís a different colonial
tradition, the English are the worst of the lot in terms
of virulence, who, want to simply strip native people
from the land, recover the land and create a New
England. That was a professed goal, so they were an
exterminationist lot and the others by and large were
not. North America is not necessarily preferable in
any aspect, we just underwent some of the processes
theyíre undergoing now at an earlier date and we are in
the aftermath of that and now thereís a maintenance of
They de? ne and manipulate our minds according to models like residential schools. Now, itís basically to fuck us up, subordinate and control us in these ways.
They donít have to do the sharp end physical stuff
that they are now doing in Latin America, because
theyíve already done it. Itís a balance and a trade off
again. There has to be an understanding that itís not
necessarily preferable to be continually processed through these institutions and to become self colonizing
rather than subjugated. So itís different phases of the
same struggle in a way. We can draw some inspiration
from the example down there because people exist in
ways weíve forgotten how to up here. It [colonization]
gets more confusing in the aftermath. I suppose when
theyíre trying to shoot you, burn you and scalp you, itís
pretty clear. It gets more diffused and confusing in our
present state and so they convince us that the need to
resist in tangible ways is passed.
Do you think a solution to colonialism would be to just to cut ourselves off totally from the outside world?
No. Thatís an option, but itís not really a viable option,
the world that has been created has changed. For
better or worse? I would argue worse. The fact of the
matter is that itís changed over the last two hundred
years and our cultures have to too. The worldís
always changing. It has cycles that we understand.
Weíve developed cultures, belief systems and
received knowledge that are capable to contain and
that have enough ? exibility to adjust to any changing
The question is not whether we interact with things
from the outside world, we always did that. We are a
trading people. They came with glass beads and we
were using seeds and porcupine quills and glass beads
worked better in some respects. They came with steel
edged tools and weapons and those were useful and
in exchange for those we incorporated them into our
culture. But it did not destroy our culture in either case.
Firearms would be another example and in fact without
? rearms we simply would have been overrun: without
being able to force concessions and to create the basis
for the articulation of native rights today.
Do we control the rate at which we incorporate things
from the outside? Or does somebody come and impose
those things upon us and de? ne those things for us?
So itís asserting control within our cultural dynamics
that de? ne our identity and our relationship to those
Is diplomacy or more table talks the route that we
should be better exploring?
If they believe that you are, number one: capable,
number two: willing, to cost them more than they
can gain in any given instance theyíll back off. You
cannot do that by sitting down and having a reasoned argument with people who are deploying tanks against
you [i.e. Oka, Gustafsen Lake and Wounded Knee].
They got the upper hand, theyíve got the power and
they know it and theyíll negotiate on that basis. Which
means whatever youíre going to get is going to be a
PR gesture on their part. Theyíre not going to give you
anything of consequence to themselves as a part of the
negotiating process. Thatís their rules of diplomacy...
Weíre going to hear a whole bunch of Ghandism and
paci? sm about native folk in our traditions, that we are
peaceful peoples, but it was always understood among
our diplomats, about how you go about being credible.
That was understood, it was the rules of the game. If
you take that responsibility.
What about alliances with Non-Natives?
It has to be understood that globalization and all those
attendant problems are absolutely contingent upon
the consolidation of an internal colonial empire. They
gotta have this territorial resource block to operate
from in order to assert themselves, in terms of a global
projection of power and dominance. The way to combat
that, the only effective way in the end unless you want
to spend eternity ? ghting symptoms rather than the
cause is to suck it up. Realize that the internal colonial
empire, the base of operations has to be dismantled.
And that goes to native rights okay, because the only
way Canada or the United States exists, is on the basis
of colonizing native people. Usurping land rights and
asserting dominance over resource rights, denying selfdetermining
rights and all the rest of that. Decolonizing
North America, you dismantle the basis for the
projection of power which results in global empire.
You solve these other problems, native societies, in
reasserting sovereignty, returning to traditional values
and ways of doing things and those do not include racism and ageism and sexism and all these other isms
that everybody wants to combat piecemeal.
First peoples, First Nations, ? rst priority, and thatís the
? rst principle. If thatís understood by environmentalists
and understood by whoever the alliance will be formed
with and they are willing to act on that basis, we have
a basis for alliance. But in the alternative, if theyíre
not willing to accept that, what that really means is a
settler colonial population trying to readjust relations
within the state for the greater degree of comfort and
convenience for themselves and that perpetuates
rather than solving the problem.
First of all itís a matter of clarity and consciousness.
And itís on both sides of the equation, native people
need to demand that too and the ones of responsibility
is on the on these other so-called radicals in
opposition. I have told that to dis-empowered white
people standing up and asking me what can they do
to help. Itís real simple, that is, ďWhy arenít you taking
responsibility of being on the front line of this ? ght
rather than always expecting native people to ? ght a
view you supportĒ.
Take responsibility for the fact that itís your society,
political system and world view. Take the lead in
changing it, rather than expecting other people to do
it for you and speaking from your position of privilege,
of not having any clue of how you might alter the
relations of power? You are the relations of power! That
understanding, thatís the key. You canít ever back off
of that because these guys will weasel around to get
off the hook of responsibility in an amazing variety of
ways. You just gotta be absolutely consistent with that
in political alliances and relations.