An advertisement for the series “Violence, Politics, and the State,” which included McCullum’s lecture.

Hugh McCullum was an activist and journalist. He was born and raised in the Yukon. After working with a number of local newspaper, He was the first layperson to be editor of Canadian Churchman, the national monthly of the Anglican Church of Canada. He also hosted the CBC national program, Meeting Place, from 1984 to 1989. In 1989, he took charge of the information unit of a research and documentation in Zimbabwe. Except for a brief return to Canada to be senior editor-writer of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, he stayed in Africa for 13 years. He was a passionate advocate for justice in Northern Canada, Africa, and Central America. He co-authored the book This Land is Not for Sale: Canada’s Original People and Their Land; A Saga of Neglect, Exploitation, and Conflict (1975). As a journalist, he covered both the James Bay hydroelectric project and the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline and served as a staff member for the interchurch project on Northern development. He died in 2008.

In his lecture, McCullum reflected on his experience covering the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline and the battle over the expropriation of Dene land to construct it. By refusing to cede their territory, the Dene, McCullum argued, were giving Canadians a clear message about the meaning of freedom and responsibility. Despite this, the Toronto Star and other national media outlets cast Dene refusal as violence. However, McCullum suggested that the Dene were not issuing a threat but rather challenging Canadian values and democracy, and finding them wanting. In its proper perspective, the violence of the oppressed was better understood as a symptomatic response to a serious problem of government and corporate exploitation. McCullum urged the audience to expand the definition of violence to see it as a problem inextricably linked with powerlessness and abuse of power. Institutional oppression was therefore among the root causes of violence. The Canadians, not the Dene, were the truly violent people. By fighting against the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, the Dene were asking for democracy in its truest form and for nationhood on their own terms. By expressing solidarity with Indigenous people, McCullum suggested, Canadians might begin the restoration and liberation of their own society and build a true democracy.

Hugh McCullum delivers his Dunning Trust lecture.