Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ann Says: 'White Man Speak With Forked Tongue'

At the University of Colorado:

In light of the fact that [Ward] 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 "tommyhawk" 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."

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