Since I first discovered the writing of Ward Churchill, I’ve always found his analysis of the situation facing Native Peoples in North America pertinent.
So it was a great pleasure to find that a collection of his writing about land-based struggles had been released in book form in Canada.
Churchill, a Creek/Cherokee Métis, is the highly respected co-coordinator of the Colorado chapter of the American Indian Movement. His book, Struggle for the Land (published by Between The Lines, Toronto, 1993), is divided into four sections which give an easy overview of Churchill’s views.
In Part I, Churchill looks at the legal issues surrounding the continued colonization of Native Peoples in North America. It is wrong to view Native Peoples as ethnic or racial minorities, he writes in the first essay in the section, “American Indian Lands.” First, he points out that North American Natives comprise at least 400 identifiable ethnic groups, as different from each other as “Mongolians are from Arabs.”
The concept of racial minority also fails to serve any useful purpose since it doesn’t take into account the sense of national identity felt by most, if not all, indigenous populations in North America. Native Nations have the “right of inherent sovereignty” under international law as they possess “a common language, a structure of self-governance, a form of legality; and means to determine (their) own membership and social composition,” Churchill says. He further notes that international law recognizes treaties to be relationships only entered into between nations, and the U.S. alone has 371 such treaties.
The national nature of Native struggles separates them from other struggles for social justice within North America, argues
‘mother country.”‘ It is this legitimate right of sovereignty and nationhood that lies at the core of the Native struggles we have witnessed since the resurgence of Native resistance in the late 60s.
In the second essay in this section, “Perversions of justice,”Churchill shows how the U.S. has violated international legal standards for countries acquiring new territory. Examples include the Marshall Doctrine, the campaigns of extermination, the Allotment Act, the Indian Citizenship Act and the Termination Act. While Churchill’s references to Canada are only passing, he makes it clear that Canada’s acquisition of land is no more legally acceptable. He points to a series international conventions which both settler nations have violated.
Churchill goes on to examine five modern cases of Native resistance in Part II: the Iroquois land claims in New York, the Lakota struggle around the Black Hills, the Diné (Navajo) and Hopi resistance on the Arizona Black Mesa, the case of the Western Shoshone of Newe Segobia and that of the Lubicon Cree of Northern Alberta. Each case is meticulously researched and thoroughly examined from its historical, political and economic points of view. A wealth of footnote references allow the reader to further examine the issues. Canadian readers will find the piece about the Lubicon Cree—the most thorough and succinct examination I’ve seen to date—of particular interest.
In Part III, Churchill examines the role that mineral and energy resources play in the continuing genocide against Native Peoples in North America. Crees of James Bay will be particularly interested in “The Water Plot: Hydrological Rape in Northern Canada,” an essay dealing with the James Bay projects. In closing this section, Churchill turns his attention to the current and on-going legal and practical attempts of Native Nations to gain meaningful self-governance.
Churchill closes the book with “I Am Indigenist.” This piece outlines what role traditional Native philosophy can play in addressing problems faced by Natives and non-natives alike. He describes idigenism as “a vision of how things might be which is based on how things have been since time immemorial, and how things must be once again if the human species, and perhaps the planet itself, is to survive much longer. Predicated in a synthesis of the wisdom attained over thousands of years by indigenous, land-based peoples around the globe… indigenism stands in diametrical opposition to the totality of what might be termed ‘Eurocentric business as usual.'”
In closing, Churchill invites “anyone who shares that viewpoint to come aboard, regardless of your race, creed or national origin.”