Friday, July 27, 2007

WARD CHURCHILL: Lucky He's Not a Bison

As long as I’m talking about controversial figures, I might as well pick up a bit of Ward Churchill as well, since he’s finally been fired. What I see is that this is all part of the retreat from the Aquarian Revolution. Tide’s going out, folks. That’s what some elected George W. Bush to do (with Cheney backing him up and pointing out where he should attack) and they’ve gotten it. National Security is the best anti-hippie device in a long time. Think you’ll run off to Canada and escape the draft, eh? We’re closing rhe border. What about your little sister? We'll draft her, too. See, even the Weathermen and ELFs are coming in from the cold. If torture is now officially legal... And it has become a prosecutable offense to be poor...

I don’t know whether they can stuff the genii back into the bottle. I agree with Ward Churchill that “... those killed in the World Trade Center collapse were ‘a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" but I do NOT agree that the occupants of the buildings were "little Eichmanns." Few were even CEO’s. That’s rhetorical overkill as was the actual attack, for it was so heinous and horrendous that no one could defend it. (Churchill was joined by the fundamentalists who invoked “Sodom and Gomorah” but who quickly piped down when they realized they weren’t making any points. They'd have done better to think about Samson, whose destruction of the temple brought the roof down on his head.) The folks who think that Bush and Cheney, or some mysterious cabal, actually exploded the building themselves are way off in space, too. Having worked in the Bureau of Buildings with engineers and heard their thoughts, I suspect that the towers were more vulnerable than anyone realized, even the terrorists. Contrariwise the Pentagon, which was built when steel was in short supply, had just been brought up to prescribed strength shortly before the plane hit it, or the damage would have been far more devastating.

But this was supposed to be about Churchill. Native Americans have been thrown into confusion and irony more than anyone else, because in the Big French Theories span of time, they all learned how easy it is to claim to be one of the truly downtrodden in order to gather the benefits and honors that are rightfully theirs. But Churchill was so clever at turning rhetoric against oppressors (probably more over-the-top than even AIM leaders) that they could hardly disown him. (It’s interesting that on the Blackfeet Rez the most effective leaders of full-bloods have often been of mixed blood, for example the two sons of Isidore Sandoval or Sanderville who were half-Mexican and half-Piegan -- but whole-hearted intercessors for justice when it came to the government and defenders of the ceremonies.)

It’s clear by now that Churchill is not a Native American by blood, but he IS technically one in a way. Every tribe has the right to define membership and take anyone into membership with them. They are forever creating honorary memberships and that was done for Churchill, because he was drawing art and selling the pictures as Indian art, which is illegal unless you’re really an Indian. (The law was originally meant to prevent cheap Chinese knock-offs of SW silver jewelry and the like, which made it hard for the authentic silversmiths to find buyers.) Churchill is an “Indian” if any tribe will claim him, and one did to save him from prosecution -- so now the confusion of definitions about the legal status of NA’s comes home to roost. (To say nothing of the complex protocols of “adopting” white men. Tribal resolution? Individual family? Do they get a share in the tribal corporation?)

But the real culprit is the Marxist Aquarian Spirit of lifting up the ethnic, the poor, the female, etc. in the French manner, regardless of their credentials. Suddenly the underclass had a huge source of power. The university knew jolly well when they made Churchill a professor that he didn’t qualify in the traditional way. They took the chance for the sake of their image and now they will probably have to pay a pretty penny, either as a settlement or in proceeds from a lawsuit. As usual, the lawyers who surf the tides of culture-change will net the most.

When Churchill was hired, political correctness demanded that the underclass be honored and given credit for “life experience.” (Actually, it’s not that unknown for someone without a Ph.D. to be a professor, but Churchill -- who is far from dumb -- covered that base too, with an honorary doctorate. He knows a lot about escaping gate-keepers.) Now political correctness has grown to such bullying dimensions that genetic deficiencies can cause one’s termination. (Ward is lucky he’s not a bison -- purists have been going through the herds and killing all the ones with domestic cow genes.) Cultural hydraulics work on the university as much or probably more than they do anyplace else.

Vivid rhetoric, whether fact-based or hyberbolic, has been a Native American art form from the beginning. Without TV and spending long hours healing up or recovering after hunting and warfare (I suppose you thought they were loafing!), NA men sat in circles or groups, talking and signing. Each urged the others on to greater heights of coup-counting, mythic grandeur, and rhetorical straw-man killing. It was an indispensable way of staying psyched up for a short, risky, painful life. Of course, once booze provided a shortcut to the same end, the skill of rhetoric took some hits.

Ward Churchill has learned to talk the talk. (No one walks these days, especially academics.) The Board of Regents took a self-righteous, expedient, and betraying step when they fired Churchill. I hope he gets a lot of money out of it. And I hope everyone cools out a bit about the huge, splendid and seductive mystique of the Noble Savage. But I would not like to see “little guys” pipe down. DEMAND JUSTICE! Otherwise you just won’t get it and neither will anyone else.

1 comment:

Rebecca Clayton said...

This is very interesting--I always see analogies between the Native American issues you mention and the "Appalachian Identity" rhetoric I hear and read. I need to think some more about it before I shoot my mouth off, but you've articulated something here I've been trying to get at for several years. Always thought-provoking!