Thursday, March 17, 2005

Ward Churchill: the White Man’s “Indian”

One might think that, since he chaired the University of Colorado’s Ethnic Studies Department, and since he was hired as an American Indian, and since he writes about Indians, Ward Churchill represents an authentic “Indian voice.” One might assume that when he says the people killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11 deserved their fate, this represents the voice of “people of color” mad at centuries of racism and oppression.

All that would be wrong.

Ward Churchill is a creature of, and a representative of, left-leaning white academics.

All the while Churchill was being petted and pampered and promoted at the University of Colorado, Indian activists were trying to warn the University that what they had on their hands was a fraud. As outlined in an excellent story in the Rocky Mountain News, Indians bringing the bad news about Churchill were repeatedly ignored or rebuffed.

As the newspaper put it:
CU has been contacted a number of times over the past 20 years by prominent figures within the American Indian community who have raised questions about Churchill’s truthfulness, his scholarship and his ethnicity.
They then go on to provide examples.
David Bradley, a Santa Fe-area American Indian artist whose feud with Churchill has endured more than a decade, says he told CU a long time ago that Churchill should be fired.

“If his bosses had simply done their jobs, if they had checked him out, if they had started reading his damn writing, they would have said, ‘Wait a minute! This falls below our standards,’” Bradley said.

“If they had, he wouldn’t have tenure. It was a failure every step of the way.”
An American Indian Movement activist named Vernon Bellecourt was apparently one of the first to approach the University and challenge Churchill. He says he first approached the university with questions about the veracity of Churchill’s claim to American Indian heritage, coming forward in 1986.
“We went out there with a stack of documents to tell them about him,” Bellecourt said. “I made a special trip to Colorado and went to the university. I tried to meet with the president of the Board of Regents.”

Bellecourt says none of the regents was willing to talk to him, and instead sent an employee to meet with him. He says he gave her all the documentation and never heard from them again.

“We were really frustrated when we left,” Bellecourt said. “We said, ‘At least we warned them.’”
Probably the most persistent critic of Churchill has been activist Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute. According to the Rocky Mountain News
“I sent a letter to the university in 1992 saying he’s not a native person,” said Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute. She says she received a response from a university official saying Churchill had not been hired because he was an American Indian. Harjo, the former executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, says that is nonsense.

“He was interviewed and hired because he said he’s an American Indian,” she said. “The material he used to gain tenure says he’s an American Indian. If he were Ward Churchill, white man, they would not have made him chair of ethnic studies.”

“He’s lied to the university and they’ve passed him off as an Indian,” she said. “They’ve aided and abetted his deception. The university needs to accept its role in this and do something about it.”
The irony here is rich.

A liberal university administration, claiming to believe in “diversity” hired a grossly underqualified fellow who claimed to be an Indian. What did they do when real-world Indians came forward to expose Churchill as a fraud? Blew them off! Told them, in effect “Forget it. We have our diversity hire. Don’t bug us about whether he’s even really an Indian, and certainly don’t bug us about whether he’s an honest academic.” All those things are, after all, potentially very inconvenient when we are making a “diversity hire.”

Churchill, and similar “diversity” leftists such as those who dominate Colorado’s Ethnic Studies Department and other outposts of playground radicalism, have to be understood as the product of two distinct kinds of left-leaning academics. First, there are the administrators. They may have a genuine (if intellectually flabby) belief in diversity, and lack the acuity to understand what is going on. Or they may be cynical careerists, knowing how good “diversity initiatives” look on a résumé and how convenient they are for placating all kinds of constituencies.

Second, there are the leftists on the faculty, who either agree with people like Churchill, or who, if they have slightly better sense, still resonate to the rhetoric.

In the environment of a modern university, both groups matter a lot. Who doesn’t matter? Real-world American Indians, to whom the University of Colorado was saying “get lost.”

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