Eric Cheyfitz report: Attacks on Churchill a Sham

Eric Cheyfitz is professor of American Studies at the University of Colorado. He summarizes the charges brought by concerned faculty against the Churchill investigative committee:

Eric Cheyfitz Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters
157 Goldwin Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14850

Investigative Committee Research Misconduct

1.    Charges are politically motivated, being brought simultaneously with the university upholding Professor Churchill’s right to free speech in his “Some People Push Back Essay.”
2.    Academic double jeopardy
3.    Exceptionally small sample of work used to bring the charges (see Boulder AAUP statement).
4.    Violations of due process in the selection of the Investigative committee, which has only one expert in Professor Churchill’s field of American Indian studies; and in the fact that the charges were brought and the penalty determined by the same university official.
5.    Research misconduct in the Report itself:
A.    Use of LaVelle’s essays, which are clearly biased before the fact against professor Churchill and contain substantial errors in their understanding of Native history (Allotment, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act and the legal construction of Native identity through blood quantum) and in their misreading of two of Professor Churchill’s sources: Limerick and Thornton.

B.    Folllowing Lavelle, the Report misreads Churchill on Allotment and on his uses of Limerick and Thornton and does not bring any evidence to support its claim that Churchill is wrong on the blood fraction of one-half or more used to issue allotments (Circe Sturm in Blood Politics supports Churchill’s claim but there is no citation and it may be that she is getting her information from Churchill/Jaimes; this matter of how tribal rolls were constituted by the Interior Department, which was empowered by the 1887 Act to constitute them, needs further research but it is clear that blood quantum was used in one fraction or another). Further , the Report’s reading of US v. Rogers in order to discredit Churchill’s historical sense of when blood quantum was formally instituted is at best debatable and at worst simply wrong, for Taney does not define race in his decision in terms of either blood or blood quantum as the Report insists.
C.    The Report charges Churchill with falsifying the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. While Churchiill’s account of the Act is not entirely accurate in Indians Are Us, it is not “egregiously” inaccurate as LaVelle claims on page 174 of his 1999 essay in Wicazo Sa Review, which does not get the Act entirely right either, omitting state recognition of a tribe as granting its members recognition as Indians.  Churchill’s statements about the Act’s blood quantum federal standards are basically sound because they are implied in the Act; and the Report’s and LaVelle’s description of the Act as not including those standards is thus at best debatable and arguably wrong. As with Allotment, what we have here is a debate about the extent of particular acts, what is or is not included in them; and it seems to me that Churchill’s extensive readings make much more sense than the Report’s and LaVelle’s limited readings, which do not take into account the actual implementation of these acts. Further, the Report notes that Churchill also wrote a later essay (2003) on the Indian Arts and Crafts Act in which he cited it accurately and thus modified his description of it. But instead of giving him credit for scholarly revision, something the Report  takes him to task for in his Allotment formulations, they use this revision to damn the earlier one (see page 30), noting “that in his 1994 essay, ‘Nobody’s Pet Poodle,’ Professor Churchill seriously and deliberately misrepresented the specification of a blood quantum requirement of one-quarter of Indian blood in the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990” (31). This statement is not only in bad faith given their earlier demand of revision but raises the question of intent. If Professor Churchill were “deliberately” misrepresenting the Act in his earlier characterization, why would he revise that characterization in a later essay, which clearly calls attention to the earlier work?
D.    In the matter of John Smith and smallpox, the Report leaves out crucial quotes from Salisbury, and Snow and Lamphear that support Churchill’s speculation that there is circumstantial evidence implicating Smith’s involvement in a smallpox epidemic in New England in 1616. Further, the Report makes false statements about the content of the Salisbury, and Snow/Lamphear, sources in order to support their charges against Churchill. While reputable scholars speculate that the epidemic was not smallpox, this has not been proven; and so while Churchill’s view of the matter is decidedly idiosyncratic within normative scholarship in the field, his speculation has support in the sources the Committee misrepresented or withheld.
E.    The Report finds Churchill’s account of the Ft. Clark epidemic supported by Native oral history. Further in charging Churchill with misrepresenting Thornton on the epidemic, the Report leaves out Thornton’s citing of the speech of Four Bears, which supports Churchill’s reading of the epidemic. But why spend almost one-third of the Report investigating a charge that is substantially dismissed unless one wants to make it look as if there is something to the charge in order to prejudice the reader against Churchill even as one basically concedes his interpretation. This again strikes me as an act of bad faith, an act of deliberate distortion. There is also within this part of the report certain statements about the relativity of history that approach Indian Holocaust denial (see pages 45-46).
F.    The charges of plagiarism are essentially frivolous. Churchill references “Dam the Dams” in his first publication on the subject of water issues and his failure to do so in two subsequent articles can be construed as carelessness at worst. In the case of the Cohen essay, Churchill cannot be directly connected to the publication of the essay that included the uncited Cohen work and was published under a collective name. Neither party, Dam the Dams or Cohen, has brought formal charges against Churchill in these matters as far as we know. See as well Posner’s Little Book of Plagiarism, which establishes standards that clearly eliminate Churchill’s work in this area, if indeed the collective essay is Churchill’s work, from charges of plagiarism.
G.    In the matter of the charges of citing ghost written work as third party evidence, none of the authors who signed the three essays that Churchill acknowledges writing have come forward to disown the work or charge Churchill with anything. We can therefore consider the work collaborative and that the persons whose names are on the essays take responsibility for their content and are therefore taking the position of authors of the essays.

In sum, the Report turns what is a debate about controversial issues of identity and genocide in Indian studies  into an indictment of one position in that debate, a debate in which the work of the only expert in field on the committee and the work of John LaVelle used to indict Churchill show that this expert, Robert Clinton, and LaVelle, hold an opposite position to Churchill on these matters and so have a vested interest in discrediting him. Further, while it is normative to interpret acts of congress or any legal document for that matter to include both their implementation and effects, the Report, following LaVelle, insists on violating this standard and confining the acts under investigation to their literal language, which makes no sense if one wants to understand their actual political and historical force. By following this method, the Report restricts interpretation of the acts in a way that privileges its own understanding of them and excludes alternative explanations, which it may find challenging to this understanding. This approach clearly runs counter to the accepted procedures of scholarly and critical interpretation, the purpose of which is to encourage a range of interpretations so long as plausible evidence can be produced in their support. Professor Churchill has provided such evidence in his interpretations but because of the manufactured limits of interpretation set by LaVelle’s scholarship and the Report, Churchill’s interpretations have been substantially excluded from reasonable consideration. Such arbitrary exclusion constitutes research misconduct.
To All Freedom Loving Academics:
Below you can read a recent news release concerning an important development in the case of Professor Ward Churchill.   In an ironic twist, a group of tenured faculty from CU and elsewhere has filed formal research misconduct charges against the very CU committee that ‘convicted’ Professor Churchill of ‘fabrication’ and ‘plagiarism’ charges filed in the wake of his famous 9/11 essay.  The faculty group asserts that the case against Churchill is not supported by the facts and that an investigative sub-committee appointed by the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct (SCRM) selectively considered evidence that supported a pre-ordained conclusion of guilt.  The faculty group has concluded that the conviction of Churchill was politically motivated rather than based on any supportable violation of academic standards.   In the attached file, you can find an complete analysis of the SCRM report by Professor Eric Cheyfitz, a nationally recognized expert in American Indian Studies from Cornell University.

President Hank Brown has less than two weeks to make a recommendation concerning Professor Churchill’s fate.  It is now abundantly clear that the ‘evidence’ cited by the does not support the charges of research misconduct lodged against him.  It is imperative that each of us send President Brown a message strongly opposing the firing of Churchill,  Also, it would help if you send a short (200 words or less) letter to the editors of the Silver and Gold Record at, and to the local newspapers (,,,

It is high time faculty at CU and around the country break the silence and vigorously oppose the firing of Professor Churchill.  It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to understand that the dismissal of Professor Churchill will have extremely negative consequences for academic freedom, faculty governance, the security of tenure and the future of ethnic studies at CU and nationally.   Firing Churchill will embolden powerful rightwing forces, such as Lynn Cheney’s American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) that aims to muzzle teachers in and out of the classroom, emasculate faculty tenure and undermine faculty governance.  Your vigorous opposition to the firing of Ward Churchill is needed now!

Ken Bonetti

2 thoughts on “Eric Cheyfitz report: Attacks on Churchill a Sham”

  1. Quote (at the head of this vey site):

    “Eric Cheyfitz is professor of American Studies at the University of Colorado.”

    That statment right there perfectly encapsulates the concern for accuracy that Ward Churchill and his “useful idiots” have for the truth … or at least anything that can at least minimally be supported by factual evidence.

    Cheyfitz is of course a tenured professor at Cornell … NOT Colorado … but the significance of such menial details are no doubt lost on the minions of Wardo.


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