Home > Words are Weapons: Ward Churchill
Vol. 7 Issue 1

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 decolonization?

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 colonization.

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 Reichstag.

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 them.

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 that [colonization].

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 circumstance.

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 around us.

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.

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