Some just cannot learn how to be “good Indians,” to not talk back, to not criticize, to not remember, remind, or point to ongoing colonialism. After all, “all that” was supposed to be over — now Indians are supposed to be amiable, wise, poor, brown, living versions of the Cigar Store Indian, there to appease and assure whites with gnat-sized memories and to serve as exotic items of consumption in an American world remade in the image of Disney. America did no wrong, does no wrong, and even if it ever wronged the Indians, it cannot be genocide, because that is what Nazis did; at the very least, their genocide was worse, the American genocide was a good one. Besides America is killing brown people elsewhere, not at home, right? Ward Churchill, accompanied us through some of the stock myths and fables of American nation-think, at one point doing a hilarious rendition of his average right wing critic: “What are you complaining about? Genocide? That happened over 15 minutes ago! Get over it! Level the playing field! Be contrite. I’ll give you a job, working on your own land, for very little.”
On Wednesday 15 April 2009, Professor Ward Churchill spoke at Concordia University, less than two weeks after the successful verdict won in his wrongful termination suit against the University of Colorado. He did not mention his trial more than twice, and even then in passing and in the form of humorous jabs. He is picking up where he left off before his work was interrupted by his need to defend himself against the university that hired him for doing what got him fired. The conflict lasted four years, and he showed no desire to let it monopolize any more of his time. What is certain is that his spirits have not been dampened. By the end of the night, he received two standing ovations from the audience. He was comfortable and at home.
One of the strong points of the event was to consistently link American behaviour at home with American conduct abroad, and constantly contextualizing the exercise of power in the production of racism and inequality. Thanks to Churchill’s expertise, it was done effortlessly, with economy, incisive analysis, and good humour.
The event was organized by QPIRG-Concordia (the Quebec Public Interest Research Group), which opened the evening with a showing of a very dramatic and informative documentary, “American Outrage.” QPIRG also introduced the audience to the five female students who head its different working groups focused on diverse indigenous struggles in Canada. They organize and mobilize on numerous fronts, on a wide variety of issues, and also run their own resource center.
Ward Churchill spoke for roughly one hour, followed by about 45 minutes of dialogue with those who went to the microphones to ask questions, or as became increasingly common toward the end, to give their own speeches directed at the audience. More than once Churchill had to use his famous line, “Was there a question in there?” In some cases it appeared that some speakers wanted to better Churchill at talking radical, some delivering speeches straight at the audience, while others simply wanted to have their views certified by Churchill, who instead seemed more interested in creating discussion and not taking any principles for granted. In an attempt to create dialogue out of monologues, Churchill also indicated that he was not in favour of socialist alternatives to capitalism, citing the example of how he believes the Miskitos, Sumus, and Ramas fared under the Sandinista Revolution in 1980s Nicaragua. This is one bone of contention that, among others, helped to split the American Indian Movement in which Churchill was an active figure (and he remains so, in Colorado-AIM [blog] which branched off from what is now the National AIM [blog].)
Seeing Churchill speak in person, one can easily detect the serious degree to which the persona of Ward Churchill has been aesthetically distorted by the media in the U.S., and his blustering critics (no surprises there). Often news reports and blog posts are accompanied by photos that show Churchill in some sort of rage, pounding his fist in the air (see here), shouting, or outright snarling (see this from The Denver Post). Contrary to popular video clips and photographs that show him angry and hostile as part of the standard effort to demonize critics like Churchill and show them in the meanest ways possible, Churchill is actually a rather soft spoken man who has an excellent sense of humour, speaks without rancor, and respectfully addresses many different opinions. When he disagreed, it was without a hint of any personal animosity. You will be able to see/hear this for yourselves from the video and audio that are below.
The video covers Ward Churchill’s entire address, and most of the statements made in response to members of the audience after his talk, with one interruption in the video occasioned by the need to change batteries and the tape. The video was recorded using a rather low-grade camcorder with very poor lighting that required a great deal of post-production. The only advantage of the video below is that it is all contained within one, long continuous segment rather than across more than a dozen YouTube videos. The audio file, while also less than pristine in quality (since the microphone captured sounds from every angle), covers the entire event, except for the film and the introductions.
download audio file (107 mb) [right click: “save target as…”]