Is Ward Churchill really an Indian?

Indian Country Today, the national weekly run by the Oneida Nation in upstate New York, ran a story Feb. 3 casting doubt on Ward Churchill's claims to be a Native American. The account by Indian Country Today staff writer Jim Adams again aired accusations by national Indian leaders that Churchill has no real Indian ancestry. The report found:

At various times, according to press reports, Churchill has described himself as Cherokee, Keetoowah Cherokee, Muskogee, Creek and most recently Meti. In a note in the online magazine Socialism and Democracy he wrote, ''Although I'm best known by my colonial name, Ward Churchill, the name I prefer is Kenis, an Ojibwe name bestowed by my wife's uncle.'' In biographical blurbs, he is identified as an enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees. But a senior member of the band with access to tribal enrollment records told Indian Country Today that Churchill is not listed. George Mauldin, tribal clerk in Tahlequah, Okla., told the Rocky Mountain News, ''He's not in the data base at all.''

According to Jodi Rave, a well-known Native journalist and member of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Three Affiliated Tribes [in North Dakota], Churchill was enrolled as an ''associate member'' of the Keetoowah by a former chairman who was later impeached. The one other known member of the same program, since discontinued, was President Bill Clinton. Rave said that she made this discovery as a student in a journalism class at the University of Colorado. She was also in a class taught by Churchill. When her article came out, she said, he dropped her grade from an A to a C minus.

Suzan Shown Harjo, a columnist for ICT who has tracked Churchill's career, said that aside from the in-laws of his late Indian wife, he has not been able to produce any relatives from any Indian tribe.

The Oneida Indian Nation, which has historic ties to nearby Hamilton College, issued the following statement on the Churchill affair:

''It's disturbing that anyone would use such hateful speech, and do so while claiming to be an American Indian when there is significant evidence that he is not. Professor Churchill caused many in the media to falsely believe an American Indian scholar could besmirch the lives of those who died on 9/11. Because of this, he owes every American Indian an apology.

"Likewise it is sad that he would perpetrate this apparent hoax on Hamilton College, an institution founded to help educate Indian students.''

(Hamilton was founded by Samuel Kirkland, 18th century missionary to the Oneidas, and the famous Oneida Chief Schenandoah is buried on its grounds. The Oneida Nation owns Four Directions Media, publisher of Indian Country Today.)

See our last post on the Churchill affair.

  1. Ward Churchill (The Complete Story)

    Manufacturing a weak integrity argument to justify free speech violations…

    It started in a federal Court in Pittsburgh and has moved quickly to Colorado Universtity and Iraq. It’s a stretch, but political hacks have besieged first amendment free speech protections.

    They attempt to combine a provacative essay comparing victims of 911 with Nazi criminals and an emotionally charged General’s comments on war, questioning whether such is permissible when the comments may cause damaged to an institution’s integrity. 

    Churchill was a relatively unknown professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, until Bill O’Reilly reported a piece about him and requested his audience to make a fuss.

    Why did O’Reilly target Ward Churchill?

    Because in a Pittsburgh federal court a well connected corporate crony has suggested the novice argument, and the legal question is waddling without any legal precedent in need of an activist court.

    Thus the current unexplained campaign against “free speech

      1. Ward Churchill
        Unfortunately the academic and publishing world is full of Professional Urban Indians and folks who try to pass as Indian. There is very little if any connection with these groups and reservation Indians. That is the problem. And by not keeping in touch with the reservations, culture gets distorted and mistakes made. I know the first mistake Ward Churchill made, it was posing as an Indian when he was not. If he is so willing to misrepresent his origins for profit and gain, why should I trust anything he says?

  2. Casting Doubt on a Valuable Writer
    Why is this a question now? Ward Churchill has been a good and contorversial writer for at least a couple of decades. His work on Cointelpro and other abusive government programs is excellent.

    Are we casting doubt on his work? If so why? If this is just a question of character, then it doesn’t appear too important. If you doubt the veracity of his work, then say so. On the other hand, is this a cointelpro style hit to discredit him? In the age of Bush and Ashcroft we must as wary as we should have been during the Nixon years. We mustn’t turn on ourselves and hurt those who are most valuable to our movements simply because of character allegations.

    -Robbie
    Petersham, MA

    1. Well, excuse me…

      …for posting something on what INDIANS have to say about this sordid affair! Maybe our readers would like to know what the INDIAN press is saying about all this. And aren’t you implicitly "casting doubt" on Suzan Harjo and Clyde Bellecourt? Are they COINTELPRO agents?

      Churchill’s last really valuable work was AGENTS OF REPRESSION, and that was in 1988. In recent years, his writing has been increasingly polemical and fact-free. He lost all credibility with me with his "Justice of Roosting" essay. I no longer have any patience with apologias for mass murder.

      1. Indian Country Today is owned

        Indian Country Today is owned and run by turquoise bedecked phonies more interested in the cash receipts of casinos then anything else. Cozying up to pimp developer Bill Owens and the Mormons to get lucrative tax breaks for their casinos. They should be posing in Robert Redfords Sundance catalog.
        1. Yes, but…

          I was hoping someone would be astute enough to bring that up. Yes, there are serious claims against the machine Ray Halbritter has established up at Onedia, with dissidents against the casino economy being excommunicated from the tribe. Here is the website of the democratic opposition at Oneida: http://www.oneidasfordemocracy.org/

          That said, the ownership of a publication doesn’t necessarily determine the quality of the journalism. Indian Country Today is a legitimate journal. And certainly Suzan Harjo and Clyde Bellecourt are not part of the Halbritter machine–or "phonies."

      2. Indian Country Today is owned
        Indian Country Today is owned and run by turquoise bedecked phonies more interested in the cash receipts of casinos then anything else. Cozening up to pimp developer Bill Owens and the Mormons to get lucrative tax breaks for their casinos. They should be posing in Robert Redfords Sundance catalog.

      3. Being Cautious With Innuendo
        Hi Bill,

        I’m not at all implying that Suzan Harjo or Clyde Bellecourt are COINTELPRO agents, nor do I mean to be casting doubt on them. Quite the contrary. If you recall, much of the internecine violence within the American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers in the 1960s and 70s was due to well targeted rumors, lies and innuendo placed by the FBI. Well intentioned leaders and members of these groups were often sucked in to the confusion and hostility it caused… much to the detriment of all involved. The FBI was able to cause great damage by exploiting the inherent paranoia of AIM and the BPP. To learn the lessons of those days, it is important that we be very careful before trashing people on our side. (Or, any side, for that matter. Accuracy may be the most valuable tool we have.) It’s important to consider that the initial information we have may be flawed. Yes, it’s imporatant to read what the Indian press is saying. Read it as critically as you would read any other press and recognize that it could be unfairly swayed by flawed information too.

        As far as the “Justice of Roosting Chickens” essay, do you mean the book length reference work of that name by Churchill? The essay in the book, titled “The Ghosts of 9-1-1, Reflections on History, Justiced and Roosting Chickens” occupied only 20 pages of the 300 page book. I did not read it as an apologia for mass murder. Rather I read it as an answer to the popular question after September 11, “Why do they hate us?” I read it as an explanation, not to excuse. The rest of the book is divided into two parts: First is a day by day or year by year history of US imperialism from 1776 to the present. The second is a similar chronology of US contempt for international laws and treaties since 1945. I find this a very useful (and hardly fact free) reference tool.

        So again I ask, are we casting doubt on the accuracy of Ward Churchill’s work? If so, say so, and make specific allegations. If not, then what’s the big deal? And why now? Why not 20-30 years ago?

        -Robbie
        Petersham, MA

        1. If not now, when?
          Why now? Because this particular egg is hitting the fan now. And 20 years ago he was writing legitimate, worthwhile, researched, heavily footnoted books like AGENTS OF REPRESSION. Today he is just spewing out shock-schlock. Maybe he moderates his line in the version of "Roosting" he published as a book, but having read the original essay, I fail to see how it can be interpreted as anything other than a defense–indeed, an outright glorification–of the 9-11 attacks. ("…gallant sacrifices of the combat teams…" In Churchill’s own condescending words, "Let’s get a grip here, shall we?") I draw the line at apologias for mass murder. I consider this a very "big deal" indeed. Sorry if that makes me a bourgeois liberal.

          As for Churchill’s chronology of US war crimes, I haven’t read it, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts William Blum does a better job in KILLING HOPE. I have a hard time believing Churchill has done any original research in recent years. He seems to have figured out that being an incendiary yahoo is more lucrative. Correct me if I am wrong.

          I didn’t uphold the Indian Country Today article as sacrosanct. But it was good journalism. The charge of being a fake Indian is a serious one, and he owes his readers, students and the public generally an answer to this charge.

          I am glad you are a fellow upholder of accuracy. Its a lonely job, but somebody’s got to do it.

  3. Is Ward Churchill really an Indian?

    There
    is no question that it is unethical for Ward Churchill to
    misrepresent himself a
    s enrolled
    member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees if he is not.

    On the other hand, Native
    Americans are the only sovereigns I know of who allow another
    sovereign to define who is a member of their community and who is
    not. The United States imposed a system of "blood quantum"
    on the Native Americans, requiring a person to have a certain
    percentage of heritage from a particular Nation in order to be a
    member of that Nation.

    This policy, will, over time
    eliminate, by definition, all members of the various American Indian
    Nations. It is possible to be 100% Native American, yet not have
    enough of any one Nation to qualify for membership.

    One of the aspects of
    sovereignty that the Native Americans have to take back is defining
    who is a member of their society. They need to pick a new criteria
    for inclusion that does not, over time, define away their existence.

    Ward
    Churchill, on the other hand, has to be straight with us too.  The changing story of his heritage erodes his credibility.