If Ward Churchill loses his job teaching at the University of Colorado, he could end up giving Howard Dean a real run for his money to head the Democratic National Committee.
In 1983, Churchill met with Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and later felt it necessary to announce that his group, the American Indian Movement, “has not requested arms from the Libyan government.” In 1997, he was one of the “witnesses” who spoke at a “Free Mumia” event in Philadelphia on behalf of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Come to think of it, Churchill could give Hillary a run for her money. All that’s left for Churchill to do now is meet with Al Sharpton and kiss Suha Arafat.
Churchill’s claim that he is an Indian isn’t an incidental boast, like John Kerry’s pretending to be Irish. It is central to his career, his writing, his political activism. Churchill has been the co-director of the American Indian Movement of Colorado, the vice chairperson of the American Indian “Anti-Defamation” Council, and an associate professor and coordinator of American Indian Studies at the University of Colorado.
In one of his books, Struggle for the Land, Churchill advances the argument that one-third of America is the legal property of Indians. And if you believe Churchill is a real Indian, he also happens to be part owner of the Brooklyn Bridge.
In his most famous work, the famed 9/11 essay calling the 9/11 World Trade Center victims “little Eichmanns,” he said: “Arab terrorists”–his quotes–had simply “responded to the massive and sustained American terror bombing of Iraq” by giving Americans “a tiny dose of their own medicine.”
Having blurted out “Iraq” in connection with 9/11 in a moment of pique, Churchill had to backpedal when the anti-war movement needed to argue that Iraq had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Arab terrorism. He later attached an “Addendum” to the essay saying that the 9/11 attack was not only payback for Iraq, but also for various other of this country’s depredations especially against “real Indians” (of which he is not one).
In light of the fact that Churchill’s entire persona, political activism, curriculum vitae, writings and university positions are based on his claim that he’s an Indian, it’s rather churlish of him to complain when people ask if he really is one. But whenever he is questioned about his heritage, Churchill rails that inquiries into his ancestry are “absolutely indefensible.”
Churchill has gone from claiming he is one-eighth Indian “on a good day” to claiming he is “three-sixteenths Cherokee,” to claiming he is one-sixty-fourth Cherokee through a Revolutionary War era ancestor named Joshua Tyner. (At least he’s not posing as a phony Indian math professor.) A recent investigation by The Denver Post revealed that Tyner’s father was indeed married to a Cherokee. But that was only after Joshua’s mother–and Churchill’s relative–was scalped by Indians.
By now, all that’s left of Churchill’s claim to Indian ancestry is his assertion: “It is just something that was common knowledge in my family.” (That, and his souvenir foam-rubber “tomahawk” he bought at Turner Field in Atlanta.)
Over the years, there were other subtle clues the university might have noticed.
Churchill is not in the tribal registries kept since the 1800s by the federal government. No tribe will enroll him–a verification process Churchill dismisses as “poodle papers” for Indians.
In 1990, Churchill was forced to stop selling his art as “Indian art” under federal legislation sponsored by then-Representative–and actual Indian!–Ben Nighthorse Campbell, that required Indian artists to establish that they are accepted members of a federally recognized tribe. Churchill responded by denouncing the Indian artist who had exposed him. (Hey, does anybody need 200 velvet paintings of Elvis playing poker with Crazy Horse?)
In the early ’90s, he hoodwinked an impecunious Cherokee tribe into granting him an “associate membership” by telling them he “wrote some books and was a big-time author.” A tribal spokeswoman explained: He “convinced us he could help our people.” They never heard from him again–yet another treaty with the Indians broken by the white man. Soon thereafter, the tribe stopped offering “associate memberships.”
A decade ago, Churchill was written up in an article in News From Indian Country, titled, “Sovereignty and Its Spokesmen: The Making of an Indian.” The article noted that Churchill had claimed membership in a scrolling series of Indian tribes, but over “the course of two years, NFIC hasn’t been able to confirm a single living Indian relative, let alone one real relative that can vouch for his tribal descent claim.”
When real Indians complained to Colorado University in 1994 that a fake Indian was running its Indian Studies program, a spokeswoman for the CU president said the university needed “to determine if the position was designated for a Native American. And I can’t answer that right now.” Apparently it was answered in Churchill’s favor since he’s still teaching.
If he’s not an Indian, it’s not clear what Churchill does have to offer a university. In his book, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present, Churchill denounces Jews for presuming to imagine the Holocaust was unique. In the chapter titled “Lie for Lie: Linkages between Holocaust Deniers and Proponents of the Uniqueness of the Jewish Experience in World War II,” Churchill calls the Third Reich merely “a crystallization” of Christopher Columbus’ ravages of his people (if he were an Indian).
His research apparently consisted of watching the Disney movie Pocahontas, which showed that the Indians meant the European settlers no harm. (That’s if you don’t count the frequent scalpings.)
Even the credulous Nation magazine–always on red alert for tales of government oppression–dismissed Churchill’s 1988 book Agents of Repression about Cointelpro-type operations against the American Indian Movement, saying the book “does not give much new information” and “even a reader who is inclined to believe their allegations will want more evidence than they provide.” If the Nation won’t buy your anti-U.S. government conspiracy theories, Kemosabe, it’s probably time to pack up the old teepee and hit the trail of tears.
In response to the repeated complaints from Indians that a phony Indian was running CU’s Indian Studies program, Churchill imperiously responded: “Guess what that means, guys? I’m not taking anyone’s job, there wouldn’t be an Indian Studies program if I wasn’t coordinating it. . . . They won’t give you a job just because you have the paper.” This white man of English and Swiss-German descent apparently believes there are no actual Indians deserving of his position at CU. (No wonder the Indians aren’t crazy about him.)
As long as we’re all agreed that there are some people who don’t deserve jobs at universities, why isn’t Churchill one of them?