July 14, 2009

Churchill's role in Native studies

Churchill's identity revealed in wake of Nazi commentThe nature of Churchill's decidedly offensive remarks, however, forces us to critique in general the injurious approach to scholarship and basic human decency. We defend the right to broadcast and publish, but propose it is reprehensible to excoriate innocent human beings who have suffered great loss by rubbing salt in deep wounds simply to prove a political point and simply to strike (one more time) a political posture on behalf of the far left and under the guise of American Indian sentiment. Wrapped intimately with American Indian themes in his writings and lectures, and shielded apparently by his own American Indian Movement (AIM) security team, Churchill projects the image of the quintessential American Indian activist and/or warrior--angry, defiant, insulting, forceful and accusatory. Churchill sometimes captures the historical truth of a thing, but only to load it like deadly ammunition into his ideological machine gun.

In the Native Studies field, Churchill has been one of those scholar-spokesmen who lead with the idea that Indian peoples are best served by constantly pushing the button of contradiction and the memory of every ill that has ever been inflicted against the tribes. To endlessly cite the misdeeds of the American Empire--while layering the legend of Nazi Germany over it--has the constant method of the Churchill scholarship. Producing a stream of abundant texts all wrapped around his brand of anti-colonialist rhetoric, Churchill has been--by far--the loudest and most obvious remonstrator against the Euro-American Empire's historical (and contemporary) evils inflicted on Native peoples. One can argue Churchill has projected the image of an angry Indian who became notorious for being in the face of non-Indians as much as possible--even though the evidence builds that he is, himself, non-Indian.
Comment:  I'd say these passages describe Churchill's position in Native studies well. They also suggest why it's worth spending time on him and his battles. He's the "loudest and most obvious remonstrator against the Euro-American Empire's historical (and contemporary) evils," and he "projects the image of the quintessential American Indian activist and/or warrior." Through his scholarship and activism, he's an important figure in shaping the image of Indians--for better or worse.

I don't have a problems with many of Churchill's positions. I do have a problem with his over-the-top rhetoric and pro-Indian propaganda. For instance, his claims about smallpox-laden blankets and the lack of prejudice among Indians. My position is like historian John Hope Franklin's: historical truth helps minorities.

Of course, I attack Euro-American evils almost as much as Churchill. But I hope I'm not as bad as he is.

Today's postings are pretty typical. We have some specific critiques of Native stereotypes that are designed to educate people, not anger them. We also have some celebrations of Native arts, which Indians are using to spread their message in positive and innovative ways. And unlike Churchill, I often explain myself and justify my positions. I trust my postings are leavened with honesty and humor.

Also, I don't claim to be an Indian and then lie about it. I'm happy to be a typical WASP.

I conclude my approach is better than Churchill's. It uses some of Churchill's methodologies but improves on them. If Churchill were more like me, he'd be a more effective communicator.

For more on the subject, see Judge Upholds Churchill's Dismissal and Cook-Lynn:  Don't Rehire Churchill.


Stephen said...

I really like cracked's take on him:


And who doesn't just love this pic? :D


Anonymous said...

What on Earth is a "WASP"??? To those who aren't familiar with your defination, do you care to explain?


Anonymous said...

WASP: White Anglo Saxon Protestant


Stephen said...

It's one of the most redundant terms in existence. ;) The interesting thing is that it has more to do with class than ethnicity (like the term 'white') people (ie wealthy families of Dutch descent) are called WASPs because of their wealth. The protestant part might not seem to significant these days but back in the days when anti-Catholic and anti-semitic prejudice was rampant in this country being protestant had it's advantages.

Ojibwe Confessions said...

I was one of those guys that did reference his writings and now feel fooled. I had the opportunity to be an audience member of a couple of his "talks", and I was put-off by his arrogance. He is sure to land on his feet somewhere and still feel unmarked by his ordeal.