Dispute over Churchill’s claim to Indian identity

See Professor Meranto’s and Professor Cook-Smith’s arguments in favor of firing Ward Churchill below and my response:

(Cloud responding to argument below):

This interesting. Thank you. I don’t really think race-baiting is an
appropriate response to my earlier thoughts. Having been raised on a number
of Indian reservations as the (white) daughter of a public health service
dentist, I may have internalized (but have also fought) a colonizer’s
perspective. But I also witnessed the oppression of Native people, the
dignity of the lives of those around me, and the complex intersections of
identity, politics, history, and economics.

That said, I respect Professors Meranto and Cook-Lynn’s perspectives very
much. I think that the argument about Churchill’s fraudulent claim to Native
identity is important. However, in the current context, it may miss the
point. It matters less in the public eye whether Churchill does or does not
legitimately represent Native studies (and I will leave to one side the
question of whether one has to be an authenticated [by blood or otherwise]
Indian in order to credibly conduct research in this area; my colleagues
Carlotta Smith—whose recent death saddens us—and Erika Bsumek might offer
arguments to the contrary). Of greater significance right now, when his
firing is clearly the result of a politicized agenda carried by right-wing
opponents of area studies and of academic freedom, is that he is a public
symbol of Native studies. Taking down the symbol will do the area damage,
because most people in the wider world are not aware of the particularities
and controversies surrounding his claim to Indian identity. Right or wrong
(and I am willing to acknowledge the good arguments in the “wrong” column),
for many people Churchill is the most prominent stand-in for Native
studies—and he has been able to raise public awareness about the genocide
carried out against indigenous peoples. Many conservative are happily
awaiting the fall Churchill as a way to discredit such knowledge.

During the tenure and promotion process, during his hiring, during
deliberations of his appointment to department chair—those are times I would
have welcomed scrutiny of Churchill’s record and debates over what
constitutes authentic Indian identity. The point is that the current
situation is not one that those seeking to challenge Churchill on ethical
grounds will benefit from if he is fired. It will be a victory for the right
and all of us are at risk. We may be saved from the fox but the wolves are
licking their chops.


On 5/28/07 11:16 AM, “meranto@mscd.edu” <meranto@mscd.edu> wrote:


I submit the following regarding your plea for Churchill. This is how a
number of Native Scholars feel about the controversy. Please consider our
point of view in your decision. Many of us do not believe the State of
Studies is highly contingent upon what happens in the Churchill case. Those
you NOT in Native Studies and who continue to support Churchill do so
your “European perspective (colonizer education)” does not allow you to see
any other way. I hope you read Dr. Cook-Lynn’s words. I might add that
Churchill and his cohorts have never supported Dr. Cook-Lynn’s work, even
though those of us in Native American studies know without her efforts there
would be no Native Studies. She is the founder of Native Studies (not ethnic

Dr. Zia (Oneida) Meranto Professor of Political Science Director of Native
American Studies Program Metropolitan State College of Denver 303 556-4859

Recognition and defense of tribal-nation citizenship rights

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

The future of Indian country is in the land. Yet blood, race and sovereignty
provide the most controversial and heated debates these days. Speakers at
Federal Bar Association meetings don’t talk so much about land theft as they
talk about identity issues and gaming. If that seems unfair, just ask the
Seminoles, or the Cherokees of Oklahoma. A few anonymous comments from the
latest FBA meeting illustrate the banality of what passes for law theory:
really hope tribes can get away from this notion of blood as the essence of
Indian identity.” And, ”There might be some kind of long-term benefit for
Indian country if we can adopt some expansive notion of Indian identity.”
And, ”We need other blood in our cultures.” Taku? Taku?

The ongoing struggle for what can be claimed as tribal-nation citizenship
rights seems to provide a never-ending battleground for ignorance,
self-centeredness, individualism and fraud. In the case for dismissal from
university position, Ward Churchill provides a case in point.

Churchill had falsely claimed to be an Indian for decades. He got a
professorship in the ethnic studies department at the University of Colorado
in 1973, perpetrating a fraud through that claim, and got away with it for
years and is still getting away with it. After he made his now-famous
Eichmann” remark, the university has been trying to fire him for inadequate
research credentials but NOT because his claim to Indian identity was
unsubstantiated. In the subsequent investigations, Churchill was not charged
with identity fraud by CU – Boulder in their effort to dislodge him from his
position, yet that is what critic John P. LaVelle, professor of law at New
Mexico School of Law, as well as countless other Native scholars throughout
the United States, contend it was.

This failure on the part of CU to charge this academic with fraud reveals
little is understood of American Indian citizenship protocols and how
sympathy, such protocols are held by those in academia and elsewhere.
Substantial investigations have shown that Churchill has no citizenship in
Indian nation and possesses no blood quantum or a blood relative to tie him
culturally, politically or legally to a tribal legacy. Yet the charges
him ignore that particular aspect of his case, the aspect that is of utmost
importance to indigenous rights activists, scholars and tribes.

One reason for the failure to sustain the charge of fraud against Churchill
that fraud, we are told, not only has to be based in deception but it also
to cause harm, and there must be documentation showing to whom it is
There is no doubt that Churchill’s claim was based in deception (many
researchers say he duped the university into giving him a professorship
through his unsubstantiated claim to Indian legacy, in spite of his
to produce citizenship papers from any officially documented tribe in the
United States), but that deception was a matter of indifference to CU.

Tribal citizenship has been recognized by the tribes since time immemorial,
but certainly since 1934 and even before, and formalized ways to identify
tribal citizens have been based in codified tribal law. Think what you want
about the system. It exists and awards a political standard to those who
qualify. It is possible that CU may not have even asked for credentials at
all. The academic dilemma brought about by the Churchill case has
the fact that universities have been lending their supposed credibility to
such fraudulent behaviors in violation of the law.

This may be the perfect moment for Indian Studies scholars throughout the
country to demand that American universities stand by the side of the
indigenous populations of this country in defense of First Nation
The defense of citizenship is one of the most important functions of any
sovereign nation. But make no mistake. If we choose to defend tribal-nation
citizenship rights at American universities, we will have a fight on our
hands. The truth is, there is a powerful stream of thought in our society
persists in believing that American Indians are just some kind of romantic
savage and doomed race condemned to vanish without citizenship rights,
American nor tribal, without land and Native legacy. This thinking has been
the heart of the Churchill dilemma; and Churchill himself, while claiming a
position of advocacy historian to Natives, has been blindly influential in
shaping this absurd notion.

The Churchill case should offer insights into this ongoing threat and we
come to some agreements about what we expect of the academies of learning in
this country. That is what Indian Studies is all about and we have much to
gain from the careful study of this particular moment. It is not about
”right-wing pressures.” It is not about the ”relentless pursuit of and
punitive approach” toward a man who made unacceptable statements. It is not
about speaking out on controversial issues. We all do that.

It is about whether or not tribal citizens in America stand as members of
nations-within-a-nation against fraud and aggression. There are few rules
these kinds of influential offenses against us, but the lack of precedent
not mean that we cannot find meaning in this case. When indigenous
rights in America are threatened, as they often are, we are all harmed.
could, miraculously, come out of this fiasco, but only if we stand on the
principles that defend tribal-nation citizenship.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Crow Creek Sioux, is professor emerita of Native
Studies at Eastern Washington University, Cheney, Wash., and visiting
professor at Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz. Her new book is ”New
Indians, Old Wars,” from the University of Illinois Press. She makes her
in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Dr. Zia (Oneida) Meranto Professor of Political Science Director of Native
American Studies Program Metropolitan State College of Denver 303 556-4859

—– Original Message —– From: Dana Cloud <dcloud@mail.utexas.edu> Date:
Tuesday, May 22, 2007 9:39 am Subject: [The Dangerous 101] Please consider
Ward Churchill


Dear President Brown and Provost Poliakoff:

I am writing once again regarding my urgent concern over your
impendingdecision regarding the fate of Professor Ward Churchill. It is my
strongly held belief that Churchill and his work have been vital to the
of Native American/Indian studies in the United States. In spite of
severalerrors of fact or citation revealed during the unprecedented scrutiny
of his writings (a scrutiny not applied even during his promotion to full
professorand department chair), the basic thrust of his work–which is
largely accurate–has been to educate the public regarding the history of
AmericanIndian experience since the founding of the Anglo colonies on our

Any politically motivated committee could find errors in almost any
work. The point of published scholarship is that one would be accountable to
the broader intellectual community, whose further researchserves to correct
the record and move knowledge forward. Being wrong in the process of
marshalling evidence in support of one’s claims is not usually a firing
offense among scholars and, as in the case of Galileo, what counts as
is often a political matter.

I beg you to keep in mind that the timing and content of this scrutiny of
Professor Churchill demonstrates its political character. The
conservativeorganization American Council of Trustees and Alumni has
that Ward Churchill is only their first major target; they foresee many
It was after their politicized charges that the University of Colorado felt
it necessary to search for evidence condemning Churchill allegedly on the
basis of his scholarship– even though it is clear that your committees’
effortsarose out of offense at his remarks after 9/11.

As wrongheaded as I may find those remarks (although his argument that U.S.
actions generated anger and resistance, including terrorism, seems
sustainable to me), it is the right of every intellectual as a scholar and a
citizen to speak his or her mind on matters of importance. Offensive public
speech and action–from the Boston Tea Party to the integration of
publicschools to veterans and their families coming out against the war in
Iraq–constitute a fine tradition in building a democratic public life and
spurring significant social progress.

If you proceed to fire Ward Churchill, you will have set an incredibly
chilling precedent redolent of McCarthyism. Any number of fine scholars with
unpopular but necessary (at least in a democracy) critical ideas and
controversial new knowledge will be vulnerable after your decision. You may
not personally be motivated by political censorship, but many
organizationsacross this country (including ACTA and David Horowitz’s
are awaiting your signal. They will swiftly and surely take your lesson as
one in how to shut up critical intellectuals. If the strategy of miring
administrations and scholars in the most minute details blinds us to the
political, historical, and intellectual contexts of these efforts, any
inadvertent footnoting error or misremembering of sources, any claim that is
honestly mistaken, or any politically brazen public statement may mean the
end of a career for some wonderful, bright, productive, and brave

Thus, I urge you to think very carefully about the issues I have raised as
you make your decision. What you do now has implications far beyond
details of one scholar’s work. If you dismiss Professor Churchill,you will
acting against the spirit of democratic inquiry and academic freedom. The
credibility of the claims of Native Americans to the recognition of their
histories is at stake. So are the futures of many intellectuals whose work
crucial to the vibrancy of our public life and future knowledge.

I thank you for considering my thoughts.


Dana L. Cloud Associate Professor Department of Communication Studies
University of Texas CMA 7.114 1 Longhorn Station A1105 Austin, TX 78712

(512) 471-1947 dcloud@mail.utexas.edu

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