Indian Country Today: Churchill must come clean on identity

Indian Country Today, the national weekly published by the Oneida Nation in upstate New York, ran an editorial Feb. 10, "The Churchill Episode: Two Unfortunate Currents." The piece decries that the affair has been exploited by right-wing pundits and defends academic freedom, stating that Churchill must not be fired from the Univeristy of Colorado on the basis of his comments, however repugnant. However, the second current identified by ICT will not be so comforting to Churchill's supporters:

But the second issue at play, the question of a particular Indian identity–specifically as an ''enrolled'' or ''associate member'' of the United Keetoowah Band, as claimed by Churchill, as part and parcel of his public persona and as part and parcel of his basis for writing a large body of work–becomes the major important question about the trustworthiness of this professor's position. His university must consider now if he has directly misled and misstated in describing his background and ethnic roots.

Churchill's claim is so seriously in question, in this most public of cases, that it offends some as much as the galling insults and the opportunistic political reactions. Churchill, it would now seem, is neither claimed by sensible liberal scholars nor by any of the American Indian tribes, including Cherokee and Creek, to which he has claimed affiliation.

That bona fide Indian tribes are not given more respect by Colorado University and by the media in general when they state that the professor is not in fact what he professes to be, reminds us of the paternalistic approach so many times directed at tribal authorities throughout history… Indian tribal opinion in these cases deserves much more respect and consideration, by universities and governmental institutions in particular.

We earlier stated in these pages that we hold a position of wide latitude about identity, its legacy and construction in the modern world as many…once-fragmented families, clans and nations re-group and rebuild their fractured societies. An identity grounded in indigenous existence, however, requires either documented and authorized tribal citizenship or enrollment; or, barring that, simple and yet tangible evidence that direct relatives and relations exist or existed… We would welcome any evidence in this respect regarding Churchill, upon whom the burden of proof clearly rests…because Churchill himself made it an issue by his own claim to being an American Indian before, during and after his controversial essay and subsequent remarks.

When will Ward Churchill publicly address these questions? And when will the mainstream media, which has spilled oceans of ink over the Churchill affair, even give them a voice?

(Click here for last week's ICT coverage on Churchill's identity.)

See our last post on the Churchill affair.