At first, I was unsure of what to think about Ward Churchill. I mean, everyone was telling us what to think. FOX News called him a terrorist. Counter-Punch called him a hero. I really wasn’t swayed by the latter’s campaign in his favor: it’s not like Churchill had said anything new and it’s not like he said it more eloquently than anyone else. He spoke well enough, sometimes; I thought an address to students, delivered under heavy security, one that aired on CSPAN, was suitable and adequate.

So much furor and attention for someone who is, at his very best, only adequate? Last I heard, that phenomenon was called “white male privilege.”

Indeed, it’s fairly easy to forget “Free Leonard Peltier” when the bigger crowds are shouting “Free Ward Churchill and give him a 401K.”

That is a bit rude. On the other hand, Churchill’s defense, some sort of Miranda-style syllogism, doesn’t seem on the up and up to me: “ok, so you discovered I’m a fraud who lied my way into my job, but your discovery of all of that doesn’t count because your search only happened because you wanted to violate my academic right to free speech because you were afraid of Bill O’Reilly.”

Ahem. I have no idea of the legal basis for that argument. After Scooter Libby, I’m not entirely sure how many wrongs it takes to make a right: I suppose once you have enough of them to require long-division to sort them out, most of us just give up and look the other way.

Churchill’s case is coming up at the end of July:

Discussions of race in the mainstream media have recently been shifting the entirety of white privilege onto the backs of white women. Liberal white men have enjoyed this process, snickering constantly over the corpses of white women, women whose disappearances only warrant media attention because they were too pretty and too white—before they were murdered by white men, anyway.

That’s not to say white women are or should be off the “hook” for white privilege, only that some of the same liberals who are rightly taking issue with Angelina Jolie for her blackface role are all too keen to reward Ward Churchill for his Indian-face performance.

It doesn’t seem that difficult for a white man to become a brother to someone, anyone, given the realities of power in our society. And for a bunch of sensitive dudes with awareness, we’re all too happy to let white women “hold the bag” when it comes to taking responsibility for white privilege.

Our freedom does not hinge upon the protection of Ward Churchill and his career, anymore than our freedom of speech is tied to Larry Flynt’s: there are far more deserving people than Churchill who require the urgent attention of the self-described Left. That he has become the focus of so much worry by liberals is as racist as Churchill’s attempt to ignore the sovereignty of the peoples for whom he claims to speak.

Some reading on Churchill:

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn:

Many of the scandals in academia these days are media events, melodramatic and sensational: just the ticket for someone like Ward Churchill, a man who loves center stage and has recently been outed as a wannabee Indian and a plagiarizer after a successful 20-year professorship based in fraud and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Sensational examples like Chagnon or Margaret Mead or Stephen Ambrose come to mind, but who remembers?

Sooner or later, these scandals ebb and wane and stars flicker out. At long last, though, one of the many Indian impersonators in academia has become the focus of the most significant scandal to reach Indian country since Red Fox. This impersonator at the University of Colorado has been described as a plagiarizer and a fraud by an investigative committee made up of his colleagues and is, thus, charged with those crimes. Unfortunately for Indian studies, that same committee has refused to call his claim to Indian-ness or Indian identity either a ”hoax” or a ”crime.” This would seem to indicate that this committee of anti-historical intellectuals carries on the misguided belief that there is no such thing as tribal nation citizenship.

Suzan Shown Harjo

There are many legit Indian and non-Indian people who are enthusiastically, unselfishly, tirelessly helpful to Indian people and causes. These generous traits are welcomed by many Native people, especially those who are overworked, understaffed, impoverished, stressed out or under siege.

Educator Norbert Hill, Oneida, gave Ward Churchill his first job at the University of Colorado – even though Hill recognized him as an Indian ”wannabe” – because Hill’s program needed help and Churchill was an eager beaver.

Churchill and many pseudo-Indians initially act like eager beavers. The difference between Indian and non-Indian eager beavers on the one hand and pseudo-Indian eager beavers on the other is that the pseudo-Indians are the ones pretending to be something they are not: Indians.

There are people who don’t think that lying about being Native is a serious matter, or even a lie. It’s more like a white lie, a pen name or a hobby. Actually, lying about being Native is more like identity theft, using a stolen passport or falsifying sworn documents. It is not victimless.

Pseudo-Indians are masters of distraction. Churchill is a classic obfuscator, as evidenced by the way he has kept reporters in Colorado running in circles chasing his biography, which is an unbroken chain of white roots linking back to southern Illinois and northern Europe.

When pressed, Churchill plays the ”Indian” victim and makes a bid for sympathy. When pressed harder, he goes on the attack. These are typical reactive traits of pseudo-Indians.

Harjo’s taxonomy of Eager Beavers, Weeping Willows, Prickly Pears, and Spies in Disguise can also apply to pro-feminists (I’m certainly guilty) and even male-to-female transsexuals. It’s worth reading and thinking about in wider terms.

Finally, the literary equivalent of Ward Churchill, “Nasdijj” or Tim Barrus:

“Did a struggling white writer of gay erotica become one of multicultural literature’s most celebrated memoirists — by passing himself off as Native American?”

Well, yes, he did. And we helped him.