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Churchill a victim of academic censure

Ward Churchill's firing from the University of Colorado shouldn't be lauded by Indians and his false claims of Cherokee and Cree ancestry shouldn't be the central consideration for Indian people on the matter; rather, his removal by the University of Colorado board of regents should be weighed wholly for what it is - a censure on academic expression that is found to be in discordance with American exceptionalism.

With the firing of Ward Churchill, a longtime advocate for Indian rights, over his breaching of the academic taboo of holding the United States responsible for its actions (as Indians, more than any people, should be ready to endorse), we are at a great loss in Indian studies of a leading proponent of ''revisionist history.'' It is troubling that the standing committee that investigated Churchill had the audacity to claim their efforts were narrowly focused on academic misconduct (minor in nature) instead of acknowledging the overt truth that recent controversy about Churchill is rooted in his essay on 9/11. In other words, the academic committee charged with bringing investigation on Churchill took no notice of the political agenda they served to fulfill, but (to use the infamous Nuremberg defense) were merely ''following orders.''

The root of charges leveled against Churchill, charges of academic misconduct, lies primarily in his characterization of the General Allotment Act of 1887 or ''Dawes Act.'' In many of Churchill's publications, as is documented by UNM law professor John LaVelle, Churchill makes the claim that the Dawes Act ushered in a eugenics measure for tribal membership popularly termed ''blood quantum.'' Although, according to LeVelle, the Dawes Act itself doesn't stipulate this measure, it's fair to say that this act helped forge a more paternalistic federal Indian policy complete with a newly envisioned racial code that has came to dominate many tribes' criterion for membership today.

I understand LaVelle's points on the fine and thorough process lacking in Churchill's assessment of the Dawes Act and the proper citation needed to substantiate his exact claims, but I don't believe that Churchill's minor academic missteps should outstrip the issues he puts forth when one considers his work and relevance in American Indian discourse.

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Churchill rightly identifies 19th century federal Indian policies as the root of this dilemma and fair consideration of this, consideration that Churchill helped to initiate, remains needed. But this of course is of little concern for the University of Colorado, whose primary motivation in removing Churchill had little to do with the fine points of the Dawes Act, tribal membership or even academic thoroughness - Churchill's firing is due to his unconventional criticism of U.S. foreign policy, and charges of academic misconduct are subterfuge.

- Andrew Curley

Tsaile, Ariz.