This Ward Churchill guy is quite funny. I shouldn’t say that, I suppose, but he is. He’s so…obvious. The hair, the shades, the jaw, the flocks of doting students. You can tell he thinks he’s Nick Nolte crossed with Russell Means with just a dash of Springsteen. Yeah dude you’re just like totally cool man.
Ward L. Churchill has been angry for years, shaking a clenched fist at American power from the streets of Denver and the lecterns of academia.
Where it’s both safe and profitable to do so, one can’t help noting.
Born near Peoria, Ill., Churchill has a master’s degree in communications and is a U.S. Army veteran.
He’s also a full professor. Usually people need a PhD to get to be full professors. The Nolte schtick seems to have paid off. But not everyone buys it.
But others see him differently, including some Native Americans angry over his claims to be one of them. At the top of his resume, Churchill lists his enrollment in the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Yet the chief of the Oklahoma tribe, George Wickliffe, said they “had no association with Churchill in any capacity whatsoever.” Churchill says he is three-sixteenths Cherokee. Suzan Shown Harjo — president of the Morning Star Institute, a Native American rights group in Washington, D.C. — has Census data showing Churchill as born to parents listed as white. She said he had not shown up on the rolls of the tribes he said he belonged to. “This is not a Native person. He goes around college campuses, saying he was at the occupation of Alcatraz, Wounded Knee and at the Bureau of Indian Affairs takeover in 1972. But no one can remember him being there,” she said. “I was at the BIA takeover as a reporter, and I never saw him.”
Add a dash of Kevin Costner to the mix. You can see why I find him funny. It’s the Walter Mitty stuff, the Billy Liar routine, the Zelig business. He was everywhere, man – Alcatraz, Wounded Knee – Little Big Horn, the Trail of Tears, in the audience when Brando refused the Oscar, aboard the Titanic, at Wat Tyler’s side…
David Bradley, a well-known Indian artist in Santa Fe, earned Churchill’s wrath by championing federal legislation that required those selling their work as Indian art to be able to prove their tribal ties. “In the 1980s, money was flying like confetti around here. You had dozens of people pretending they were Indian and selling their art,” Bradley said. “We had everything stolen from us for 500 years, and I wasn’t going to let them take our art as well.” Churchill, who is also a painter, took issue with the effort. “He wrote this slanderous attack about me. He tried to impugn my motives,” Bradley said. “He ought to be fired. Shame on CU [University of Colorado] for giving this con man a job.” Bradley believes Churchill opposed the law because it affected his ability to sell his paintings. Churchill attacked the 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts legislation, saying it gave rise to “witch hunts” among tribes looking for phony Indians and put undue importance on racial purity.
Oh yeah? Undue importance? Well what are you doing teaching ‘ethnic studies’ then?
The American Indian Movement, based in Minnesota, has called for his dismissal from the university, saying he “fraudulently represented himself as an Indian” to build his career.
Hey, I’m three sixteenths Cherokee, which is good enough, because racial purity is not important, so please can I be a professor of ethnic studies at this nice university, with my MA in communications and all?
To build his career? Oh, surely not!
Timothy Burke has an excellent post here on Churchill.
In that context, it becomes awfully hard to defend the comfortably ensconsed position of someone like Churchill within academic discourse, and equally hard to explain an invitation to him to speak anywhere. There’s nothing in his work to suggest a thoughtful regard for evidence, an appreciation of complexity, a taste for dialogue with unlike minds, a proportionality, a meaningful working out of his own contradictions, a civil ability to engage in dialogue with his colleagues and peers in his own fields of specialization. He stands for the reduction of scholarship to nothing more than mouth-frothing polemic. We cannot hold ourselves up as places which have thoroughly and systematically created institutional structures that differentiate careful or or thoughtful scholarship from polemical hackery and then at the same time, have those same structures turn around and continually confirm the legitimacy of someone like Churchill.
And Margaret Soltan has another – in fact she has a whole series. It appears that the University of Colorado has been covering itself with non-glory for some time.
UD doesn’t want to kick CU while it’s down, but all you need to do is type University of Colorado in that Search thing up there to find in her blog endless accounts of sports and alcohol and academic fuckupery on campus…The spokesperson would then announce a series of real changes that will now take place. Those changes could involve firing the entire board of regents, shutting down fraternities, shutting down the sports programs, and pressuring some of the hundreds of bars adjacent to the campus to leave. They could, more immediately, involve shutting down the ethnic studies program, which, this spokesperson will admit, is a disgracefully shoddy academic unit. “We have been asleep at the wheel,” this person will conclude; “and Ward Churchill was the crash that ensued. I assure you that we at this university are now fully awake. This proud institution, which we love, will shake itself off and find its way home again.”