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Ward Churchill on Genocide in North America

Sunday, October 21, 2007

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Written by Ward Churchill

Just two months after his dismissal from the University of Boulder at Colorado, Aboriginal rights activist Ward Churchill is on the road in Canada, stirring up debate with each stop along his speaking tour.

On Thursday night, he spoke to a capacity crowd in room 103 of the University Centre about the application of the term 'genocide' to Canada and the United States for their treatment of Aboriginal peoples.

It's an idea that doesn't sit well with most mainstream academics or politicians. Churchill argues that, while the fact of the Holocaust is only denied by a relatively small number of radicals, the denial of the genocide against Aboriginal peoples is endemic in both North Amercian political and educational institutions.

"When you talk about neo-Nazis…you're dealing with people who are considered a lunatic fringe – the deniers themselves," Churchill said. "When you start talking about the expungement of native people from the history as it relates to genocide…you're not dealing with a lunatic fringe. You're dealing with a central core of authority and the academic enterprises that are considered responsible to and sanctioned by that authority."

Churchill argues that present-day definitions of genocide differ greatly from the term’s origins under Polish writer Raphael Lemkin in 1944, who drafted the original Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

“There is a notion now that genocide is a synonym for a certain kind of killing: it has to be a lot of people, a certain proportion of a people…with intent,” Churchill said. “ Why is it more genocidal to blow someone's brains out than to starve them to death or deny medical attention?”

He argues that Lemkin’s original definition of genocide, as any policy undertaken with the intent to bring about the dissolution and ultimate disappearance of a targeted human group, easily includes the history of Aboriginals in North America, who were segregated through residential schools, driven from their land, and many of whom continue to live on reserves without potable drinking water.

Though his university says it fired Churchill over research misconduct, his supporters maintain that it was a political move because his work dared to challenge mainstream academic norms.

He told the Guelph audience that will continue to do the same work he has always done, despite losing his position at the school.

"You have the ability to speak the truth as you see it as long as you can hold that position. which won't be long if that's what you're doing," Churchill explained during the question period.

"What's that word they always apply to me?" he joked. "Oh yeah. Controversial."

For links to some of Churchill's writing, click here.

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  1. Posted by: Claire Seymour on Oct 23, 2007 @ 9:49am

    Will he be coming back to give another speech if we missed the first one?

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