By Dianna Deeley
Ward Churchill is a prolific writer, though not in peer-reviewed journals. He is apt to append copious notes, both numbered endnotes, and footnotes within the text. The fact that he appends four hundred footnotes to an essay does not indicate that he is a thorough scholar, but that he is attempting to fatigue his critics. It requires extreme dedication and patience to hunt through that much material, and certainly no first-year student, respecting his teacher, is going to do so.
For example, Churchills essay Deconstructing the Columbus Myth, which is no longer than 6 pages, contains 35 footnotes. (See http://www.uctp.org/ColumbusMyth.html, endnotes) How much help they would be to the casual reader is questionable. (I intend, here, to conduct an Amazon search for the titles. I do not anticipate much success, but at this point, I have not done so.)
Evidence for Churchills fabrication of evidence is clearly laid out, in excruciating detail, by Professor John P. LaVelle of the Univerity of New Mexico (See http://lawschool.unm.edu/faculty/lavelle/allotment-act.pdf This 52 page article is devastating.). Briefly summarized, LaVelle demonstrates Churchills technique; first, M. Annette Jaimes writes an article which flatly states that in the 1887 General Allotment Act the Federal Government created a blood quantum standard for who is an Indian, then Churchill escalates the claim. (LaVelle appends the 1887 Act to his article to demonstrate that there is no such definition in the text.) Churchill begins by calling this a formal eugenics code, though there is no such thing, then states that Indian tribes conform to this standard. (Indian tribes determine their own membership at all times, and this has never been disputed.) Further, through a twisting of a quote from the work of Patricia Nelson Limerick (The Legacy of Conquest, Patricia Nelson Limerick, New York: W. W. Norton Publishers, 1987.) written about successful Indian resistance to a proposed policy of the Reagan administration, Churchill asserts that the blood quantum is a means of statistical extermination (this is Jaimes wording) of Native Americans.
As time goes on, Churchill uses this false blood quantum standard to attack the Indian Arts and Crafts Act which incidentally made it impossible for Churchill to sell his own art work as Indian Art as part of an ongoing statistical genocide, carried out by Indians themselves for the oppressive white government. Further, Churchill seizes on Russell Thorntons work, escalating into a claim that Thornton expresses a concern about the disappear[ance] of Native America as a whole
by the year 2080 if the imposition of purely racial definitions continues. (See p. 266 of http://lawschool.unm.edu/faculty/lavelle/allotment-act.pdf, and note 60.) Of course, Thornton says nothing of the kind.
As LaVelle demonstrates, Churchill continues to embellish and escalate his claims in his next books, Since Predator Came (1995), From a Native Son (1996), and A Little Matter of Genocide (1997). Professor LaVelle goes into exhaustive detail, and this is beyond the scope of the current work. For one thing, the reader ought to savor LaVelles presentation for himself; for another, the present writers grasp of the material is tentative. LaVelle has a wonderful grasp of the legal issues at question, and of the scholarly material, with which the writer has only a casual acquaintance.
In the notes, which are very detailed, LaVelle demonstrates for the reader the number of scholars whose work is distorted in Churchills work Patricia Nelson Limerick, Russell Thornton, Janet A. McDonnell and George M. Frederickson, to name only a few and lays out for side by side comparison a passage written by Churchill and one by Rebecca L. Robbins. (See The General Allotment Act Eligibility Hoax, n. 8, p. 283, Spring 1999 Wicazo Sa Review.) This is clear evidence of plagiarism, particularly since the passage in Churchill is not in quotes, and there is, furthermore, no citation of Robbins.
If any scholar has particular cause to complain of Churchills distortions, it is Professor Russell Thornton, whose biography may be found at http://iserver.saddleback.cc.ca.us/AP/la/neh/scholars.htm#russ. Dr. Thornton has had two documented incidents of Churchill distorting his scholarship. Not only has Thorntons demographic work been twisted into saying precisely the opposite of what he intended in support of Churchills long-running Dawes Act fabrication, but in an egregious case of blatant academic fraud, Churchill has seized Thorntons account of a smallpox epidemic in 1837 and fabricated from it an act of biowarfare by the United States Army.
Thomas Brown, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lamar University (http://hal.lamar.edu/~BROWNTF/Churchill1.htm) has a brief article, Assessing Ward Churchills Version of the 1837 Smallpox Epidemic, in which Brown goes back to the original sources and attempts to discover how Churchill might have come to the conclusions he does. The sources do not support any element of Churchills fantasy, except that a great many people, most of them Indians, died.
Again, one notices Churchills tendency to elaborate and escalate initial claims. The story grows in the telling though it must be noted that Churchill lowered his initial number of dead from 125,000 to 100,000 and characters, for whom there is no basis in the record, multiply. Dr. Thornton remarks, The history is bad enoughtheres no need to embellish it. (Scott Jaschik, A New Ward Churchill Controversy, Inside Higher Ed, February 9, 2005.)
Near the end, Brown writes:
|Situating Churchills rendition of the epidemic in a broader historiographical analysis, one must reluctantly conclude that Churchill fabricated the most crucial details of his genocide story. Churchill radically misrepresented the sources he cites in support of his genocide charges, sources which say essentially the opposite of what Churchill attributes to them. |
It is a distressing conclusion. One wants to think the best of fellow scholars. The scholarly enterprise depends on mutual trust. When one scholar violates that trust, it damages the legitimacy of the entire academy. Churchill has fabricated a genocide that never happened. It is difficult to conceive of a social scientist committing a more egregious violation.
Finally, scholars whose work has been distorted by Churchill have spoken up. (http://www.dailycamera.com/bdc/buffzone_news/article/0,1713,BDC_2448_3540038,00.html. All quoted material in this passage refers to this article.)
|Russell Thornton and Patricia Nelson Limerick both say they have not read Churchill. The article states, Limerick, a noted historian, said she has not read that essay. She said, though, that LaVelle a member of the Santee Sioux Nation was a student of hers at Harvard University and is very accurate. Then there is Thornton: |
Thornton, a registered Cherokee, said he has not read Churchill's work but that he wrote the disease was spread unintentionally.
"If there's evidence it was intentional, I'd like to see it," Thornton said. "I don't think there is any, other than wishful thinking. Sometimes you wish the worst could have happened in history so you can holler about it."
This is not merely criticism, this is dismissal. Two very serious scholars demonstrate that Churchill, who claims to be an important voice in their field of expertise, is someone they do not bother to read.
So why does this matter?
The long agony of the American Indian deserves careful study, and students should have some acquaintance with it. This is a history replete with tragedies both intentional and accidental, and some historical examples of attacks with genocidal intent. History is seldom pleasant, though, and the American Indian is not uniquely virtuous, nor uniquely mistreated. There is no group of people who have not committed crimes against others, and no group against whom crimes have not been committed. Manufactured history, designed to support and reinforce a victimization narrative, however, is a crime in itself.
Lessons can be drawn from history, but only if it is truthful history. The lessons will be ambiguous, and we cannot draw direct inferences from history to the present. The point of studying history is not prediction, apportioning historical guilt, or making one civilization or another into the villain of the piece. The point is wisdom and understanding human beings. Tacitus said, two thousand years ago, I am a human being, and nothing that is human is foreign to me. The longer one studies history, investigates and interrogates the sources and interpretations of later scholars, the more this resonates.
Fiction can be used to illuminate historical problems; it cannot be injected into the record and be helpful to truth. If Churchill had chosen to write a novel with the plot he has created for his Mandan smallpox outbreak, and other novels preaching his sermon of the evil Europeans and European-Americans, the critics would be raving, and no real harm would be done. Consider, in this context, the number of thrillers where secret, evil government agencies collaborate with brutal aliens.
But this is not history, and fraud in history matters. As Lois McMaster Bujold tells us, I do not care for doctored reports. Eventually, they become history. Embedded sin. (Lois McMaster Bujold, Brothers in Arms, Riverdale, NY: Baen Books.)