Native American C.U. Graduate Student Questions Professor Churchill’s Provenance and Standing.

The e-mail exchange transpired on November 4 and 5th, 2006 between University of Colorado Graduate Student Heidi McCann and Professor Kirstein.

Professor Kirstein,

My name is Heidi McCann.  I am Yavapai-Apache/Kashia Pomo/Coast Miwok born for the Yavapai-Apache Nation of which I am an enrolled member.  I am also an aluma of CU-Boulder.

I caught your blog in regards to Ward Churchill at the terrible and horrible Pirate Ballerina website and felt compelled to respond.

Being raised as a Yavapai-Apache woman I am taught my role as a woman in this world – we have certain responsibilities as women within the tribe of which I adhere to, but I am also expected to break out of the box, think outside the box for the benefot of the tribe.  On a larger scale as an American Indian we usually leave all the bickering that has nothing to do with us as a people to the people who want to bicker over it, however, the Churchill fiasco has forced me to break out of the role box.

I won’t go into great detail so in a nutshell what upsets me most on a larger scale is that all the professors and academics who have signed this “Unfire Ward Churchill” petition seem to forget the reason you are coming to his defense – the fact that he wouldn’t be in the position he is in simply because he claims American Indian ancestry.  No tribe claims him, not even the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee.  He can be “American Indian” all he wants as can anyone other non-Indian can be, but he stated over the years that he was this tribe or that tribe and finally found a tribe and it turns out he never was an official member, only honorary and he dishonored that honor and manipulated it for his benefit.  He is not the only accountable one either.  Cu Boulder is also accountable for hiring him and promoting him with no doctorate from any university.

So next time you blog about his rights, consider the rights you academics have forgotten in regards to American Indians and who they say is or is not a member of their respective nations.

I was fortunate enough to interview Vine Deloria Jr. shortly before his death.  I asked him hard questions in regards to the Churchill matter.  I wasn’t surprised at what he had to say about it and it wasn’t in favor of Mr. Churchill.


Heidi McCann,
American Indian Culture Preservationist


Dear Ms McCann:

I am honoured to receive your correspondence. I was in a similar position as Professor Churchill and I concede considerable identification with him. You may or may not be familiar with my case but my blog and my website are quite comprehensive. In fact if you go to my blog, the third entry or so from the top has some  recent commentary.

I must say I don’t agree that Professor Churchill’s ethnic self-identification is at the heart of the matter concerning the controversy swirling around this scholar. That issue was investigated years earlier by C.U. and there was no determination that he errantly or inaccurately claimed indigenous status. I believe subsequent efforts to resuscitate the charge of ethnic identification were rejected and were not part of the committee’s bill of particulars.

The precipitating factor was his written depiction of “little Eichmanns” as representing the victims of the 9/11 incidents in New York City. While that term was certainly provocative, his efforts to link capitalism, racism and other maladies to the motivations of the hijackers is consistent with critical thinking that the academy should prize and protect. His phraseology again was provocative but protected speech. This triggered a firestorm which then led to the investigation of alleged publication falsifications including plagiarism. I think due process is essential; I think honour and integrity are essential; I think research misconduct is odious; I think also proportionality in terms of punishing alleged research misconduct is essential. I believe on balance that the firing of a tenured professor in this instance would be primarily an example of persecution for political beliefs and less an appropriate punishment for scholary misconduct.

I was subjected to a similar auto da fe in terms of speech in which an aroused and enraged public wished to silence me because of my political beliefs. I was suspended and had my courses hijacked from me and I am determined to defend other professors who are also victims of external rage that leads pusillanimous universities to sacrifice their autonomy and sovereignty to satisfy a public clamouring for political lynchings and witch-hunts.

Finally, I wish to say that while I am not a specialist on Native American history, I do cover the genocide and the American holocaust rather critically in my classes.

I wish you good luck and I will probably post this exchange on my blog.
By the way, my sister went to C.U. for three years and lived in Libby Hall. I have an affection for the university and hate to see it manipulated by the “armies of the night.”

Most sincerely,

Peter N. Kirstein
Professor Kirstein,


Dear Heidi: 

Thank you for your exposition of the ethnic-identity issue. Indeed your claiming not to be a victim but one who has prevailed as a Native American is self-evident. You are a college graduate and write with elan and elegance. Yet your people were and that history must be told so that the mask of democracy and “Judeo-Christian elitism” is seen for what it is–or at least for what it has generally been during periods of excess–a racist sense of superiority over non–white peoples from Filipinos, to indigenous peoples, to African-Americans and to Muslims. 

Certainly, if one falsely claims an attribute or an accomplishment to secure a position in academe, that would be egregious misconduct. I am not in a position to judge the veracity of Professor Churchill’s claim and can only rely on the absence of any institutional conclusion that there was fraudulent misrepresentation. I conclude by saying that if he is fired, it will be primarily the result of his frequently courageous positions on both international and ethnic issues, and secondarily the result of alleged research misconduct. The latter is serious, cannot be condoned and cannot be minimised; yet from what I have read, the allegations themselves were the product of pro-war, conservative thought police and it appears to me the recommendation for dismissal is beyond any appropriate sanctions based on type and quantity of alleged research misconduct. 

For academic freedom and justice, 


I won’t go into details as I think you are capable of doing your own
research, but yes, on August 22, 2005 the CU Boulder investigating committee doesn’t believe questions about professor Ward Churchill’s American Indian identity warrant further investigation.  The misrepresentation allegation was dismissed.  CU Boulder has refused to comment on the matter because it’s a personnel issue.  However, it is the opinion that his ethnicity was not relevant to his scholarship.  Regardless, CU Boulder has neither said he is or is not an Indian, but rather this charge is outside the scope of the committee to determine.  However, it does appear that CU Boulder attempted to define Churchill as an American Indian within the context of what suited
their needs as an institution and they both chose to ignore the Keetoowah Cherokee’s assertion for who they are, what they intend to remain (distinct tribal peoples) based on the terms of their tribal nation.  For American Indians to be defined out of existence by non-Indians is when conflicts are created for it causes great harm like a two-way street.  In other words, it can be harmful or harmless, depending on its perception by those to which it affects in this instance the Keetoowah Cherokee and on a larger scale American Indians.

It was far too easy for Churchill to not resist the temptation to manipulate the idea of the romantic, mythic Indian image, stretch and define the term American Indian and appropriate an honor bestowed by the Keetoowah Cherokee and have Indians and non-Indians respond to his actions.

CU Boulder may have made plenty of mistakes in the way it hired and promoted Churchill over the years by concentrating on him as an individual to the exclusion of the United Keetoowah, forgetting that any society is a composite of individuals.   But has the university taken a small step toward redemption from the way it disrespected and failed to acknowledge the inherent tribal sovereignty of the Keetoowah Cherokee by caving in to political pressure to investigate him?  Did Churchill himself show lack of respect towards the Keetoowah Cherokee’s tradition of honor when they bestowed an honorary association with their tribal nation?  Did he knowingly allow CU to exploit his proclaimed ethnicity?  CU Boulder and Ward Churchill
were so preoccupied with whether or not Churchill could “pose” as an
American Indian (more specifically Keetoowah Cherokee) neither one of them ever stopped to think of the associated consequences of the methods they implored.

Churchill’s hiring from the beginning has always been challenged by many American Indians, however, CU refrained from investigating any claims.  In my honest opinion, Churchill never should’ve been hired in the first place and his scholarship or activism does nothing to promote Indian rights, but his own self.  This I have learned is what professorship is all about – arrogance and self- promotion.

His ethnic ID may not be at the heart of the matter, but it is what he
manipulated to get him where his is today.  CU Boulder, the general public and American Indians were indeed tricked by the trickster, “however even when the trickster engineers a trick the trickster himself is often the victim of an additional trick turned by others, by circumstance or perhaps unintentionally by himself.”   It does appear that Churchill could be viewed as a perpetrator of Indian identity along with being viewed as a trickster for both American Indians and the larger society with the end result of him being a victim of his own trick and this is the type of person you choose to defend.  He got his just desserts as the trickster always gets in the end.

I must say for the record that I am not a victim and will never claim victim status as Churchill portrays many American Indian people.  We’re survivors and we have the ability to survive anything and that is something Churchill will never say about Indian people.


Heidi McCann,
American Indian Culture Preservationist

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