Monday, March 07, 2005

More on the Ward Churchill controversy. It is becoming ever more clear that Churchill's "Indian" or "Native American" identity is very doubtful, and that his "scholarship" is even more dubious. An editorial in Indian Country Today, a Native American news service, casts doubt on Churchill's Indian identity and condemns his harsh language about the victims of the 9/11 attacks - Churchill's identity revealed in wake of Nazi comment.

We will defend a good Indian argument in these pages any time. But, again, there is no evidence that Churchill is Indian. Further, Churchill's statements are obviously devoid of even the most basic humanity that American Indian peoples hold dear. In no way does his insult reflect the views of Indian country. To know the response of Indian country to the 9/11 tragedies is to reflect on the humanitarianism shown by Eastern Native communities: from the Mohawk to the Oneida, the Pequot, Mohegan and many others who immediately put their people - ironworkers, ferry-boat crews and medical personnel - into the rescue and recovery operations, to the California Indian nations that expressed their solidarity with America and donated generously to the rescue efforts, to the Lakota families who brought their Sacred Pipe to pray at the site, leaving their quiet offerings early one dawn. This is always the preferred way of human beings - to understand the kind of empathy required to belong to the human race is essential in all political and economic discourse. To call the people who were murdered on Sept. 11 ''little Eichmanns'' is a hideous expression that when combined to Churchill's mistaken Native identity can only poison the public discourse concerning American Indians.

In an opinion piece in the Rocky Mountain News, Truth Tricky for Churchill, Professor Paul Campos of the University of Colorado law school points out how academically weak Churchill's position is.

Consider: Churchill has constructed his entire academic career around the claim that he is a Native American, yet it turns out there is no evidence, other than his own statements, that this is the case.

Churchill has said at various times that he is either one-sixteenth or three-sixteenths Cherokee, yet genealogical reporting by the Rocky Mountain News and others has failed to turn up any Cherokee ancestors - or any other Native Americans - in Churchill's family tree.

Why should we care one way or another? We should care because Churchill has used his supposed Indian heritage to bully his way into academia. Indeed Churchill lacks what are normally considered the minimum requirements for a tenure-track job at a research university: he never earned a doctorate, and his only degrees are a bachelor's and a master's from a then-obscure Illinois college.

Campos also cites evidence found by two other scholars of fabrications by Churchill in his scholarly work:

Thomas Brown, a professor of sociology at Lamar University, has written a paper that outlines what looks like a more conventional form of academic fraud on Churchill's part. According to Brown, Churchill fabricated a story about the U.S. Army intentionally creating a smallpox epidemic among the Mandan tribe in 1837, by simply inventing almost all of the story's most crucial facts, and then attributing these "facts" to sources that say nothing of the kind. . . . (Brown's essay can be read here).

Similar charges have been leveled against Churchill by University of New Mexico law professor John Lavelle, a Native American scholar who has documented what appear to be equally fraudulent claims on Churchill's part regarding the General Allotment Act, one of the most important federal laws dealing with Indian lands. (Lavelle also accuses Churchill of plagiarism).

This is the full citation for LaVelle's article on the General Allotment Act:
“The General Allotment Act ‘Eligibility’ Hoax: Distortions of Law, Policy, and History in Derogation of Indian Tribes” Wicazo Sa Review 14 (Spring 1999) (reference taken from Brown's article mentioned above).

Lavelle also wrote a scathing review of Churchill's book, Indians R Us, in the American Indian Quarterly 20/1 (1996). Lavelle says, among many other things:

Through the course of all his writings, Churchill gradually has emerged as a spokesman of sorts for those persons derisively referred to as Indian "wannabees"-individuals with no American Indian ancestry or tribal affiliation who nonetheless hold themselves out to the public as "Indians" by aggressively inserting themselves into the political affairs of real Indian people. Churchill's appeal among the "wannabees" lies both in the boldness with which he expresses contempt for Indian tribes, and in the scholarly facade he gives his anti-tribal propositions; indeed, many Churchill fans appear to have been won over by the mere fact that Churchill's books contain an abundance of endnotes. By researching those copious endnotes, however, the discerning reader will discover that, notwithstanding all the provocative sound and fury rumbling through his essays, Churchill's analysis overall is sorely lacking in historical/factual veracity and scholarly integrity.

One does wonder how the man ever got tenure!

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