Amherst College is a top ranking liberal arts college in the United States. The college is located on Norwottuck land, in western Massachusets, but both the city and the college are named after the Jeff Amherst, a British lord (in)famous for using smallpox-infected blankets as germ warfare against Native Americans.
These days, Amherst College counts a number of Native faculty members and offers a variety of courses on Indigenous and Native American studies. Among them is a course called “Indigenous World Politics” taught by Visiting Professor Manuela Picq.
This particular course approaches political theory from the perspective of Indigenous worldviews. It covers a broad range of topics, from the doctrine of discovery to the Inuit Circumpolar Council and the conflict over water in Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon. Classroom discussion is countered with the participation of various indigenous scholars, including Carlos Perez Guartambel, Juan Castro, and Peter d’Errico.
But there is one more thing that makes “Indigenous World Politics” especially unique: its students are challenging the contentious relationship between activism and academia. They are leaving the classroom and sharing stories with Intercontinental Cry.
“This is an initiative to complement various ways of thinking, knowing, and doing politics. One word at a time,” says Professor Picq, who joined IC’s editorial board earlier this year.
“Activism and academia are complementary approaches, Picq continues. “They are entangled like the two sides of a coin. It just so happens that one takes the shape of protest and the other as scholarly debate. Through this relationship we challenge theoretical paradigms and help build various forms of knowledge for the public’s benefit. Knowledge, after all, is not about imposing ‘scientific theories’ over ‘subjective’ experiences as academic interventions unfortunately tend to do. Activism and knowledge inform each other. Our bodies, our voices must stand with our ideas.”
“There’s a third side to that coin that activism and academia equally depend on,” adds IC Founding Editor John Ahni Schertow. “Even though we often take it for granted, journalism provides activists with actionable intelligence as well as a platform to inform and even mobilize the public. At the same time, it provides academics with the direction they need to pursue more detailed reflection,” he continues.
“For that reason we are both delighted and honored to be working with this group of young scholars and I can only hope others follow their example. We need to work together to ensure that the public is capable of making fully informed decisions–especially in situations like Standing Rock where industry and government are working to protect their own interests regardless of the consequences. To put it bluntly, if we fail to provide unfettered access to the indigenous side of the story, we are failing democracy.”
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