Thursday, November 02, 2006

Media Coverage of Churchill's Visit

On Monday, renowned indigenous scholar Ward Churchill spoke in Sudbury -- a rare visit for a small, out-of-the-way city like this, by a big name among lefties and radicals. Here is the (surprisingly good) write-up in the local daily:

Canada is still a colony to natives

Rob O'Flanagan

Sudbury Star, Wednesday, November 01, 2006 - 11:00

Local News - Be very suspicious of anyone who uses the intellectual term "post-colonial" to describe the present state of Canadian society, a prominent North American indigenous scholar and activist told a packed lecture hall at Laurentian University on Monday.

Colonization, he said, continues within our borders.

The author of numerous books, and a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Colorado/Boulder, Ward Churchill urged about 150 students to look outside the "white studies" perspective, and see through the eyes of the oppressed. While this country may have gained independence from the British Empire, the deeply ingrained racism and oppression towards native people - which was one of the driving forces of colonization - continues unabated in our time, Churchill argued.

A powerful orator and accomplished scholar, Churchill quoted the great French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who said colonialism equals genocide. A nation can not engage in colonizing without it having a genocidal impact on indigenous people - without it nullifying their culture, language, religion and way of life. Genocide can be committed, Churchill said, without killing a single person.

"Not one square inch of Canada exists in the absence of the appropriation of native land," Churchill said, adding the land was taken, in some cases, through coercion and fraud. Has anything really changed in contemporary Canada?

"Not one bit," he answered.

Native people in this country are largely confined to reserves, with police services and the courts used to "keep them in their place," he said. The entire country used to belong to them, and under ongoing colonial measures, they are not given what they are entitled to, he said.

Empire building of old, he said, was grounded in the belief the white Europeans were naturally entitled to own the lands and dominate the peoples they colonized. Canada was colonized by the British and the land's indigenous peoples were oppressed - treated as inferior and dehumanized.

Canada, like Australia and New Zealand, took its independence from Britain, but "there's been no decolonization of native people in Canada," Churchill said. White society, he said, remains rooted in "the natural ascension of white superiority."

While classic colonialism largely died out in the world because it was too difficult to sustain, it was not the only form of colonization, Churchill said. Under the old colonial rulers, lands like India and Africa were divided into states with no consideration for traditional tribal or ethic boundaries. Long after the rulers left, those artificial boundaries remained in place, perpetuating the colonial patterns and causing severe internal strife and bloodshed.

Churchill asked the audience to consider what the former colonies of Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada have in common. There was silence.

"White folk are in charge," Churchill said, a power structure that has been in place since the heyday of classic colonialism.

The "grimy realities" of life in this new state of colonialism, he added, are masked by terms like post-colonialism, post-industrialism and postmodernism - terms used by intellectual elites to "pull the wool over our eyes" and make us think that things have changed, when they really haven't.

Churchill's Sudbury visit was sponsored by several Laurentian departments, including the departments of native studies, women's studies and political science.

I suspect readers from the U.S. might be surprised to see this sort of coverage appear in a corporate daily newspaper owned by what is a fairly conservative chain. I can't say for sure, but I would imagine that it differs from the sort of coverage you might expect in many newspapers in the U.S. because the right-wing generated propaganda campaign against Churchill really hasn't penetrated Canada to the same extent, so there is probably not much pre-formed prejudicial consciousness among most middle-class white people in Sudbury about who he is. As well, there is a significant presence of indigenous people within the readership area of the paper in question -- the anecdotal evidence I've heard is that they, much like poor and working-class white people, don't really read the Star to any great degree, and are more likely to read the other regular paper in town, but they are present -- and I would imagine that among that population, Churchill's name is more likely to be recognized and likely to be regarded favourably. Hence the tone of this piece.

(From the Sudbury Star, found via GK.)

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