Law School Discussion

Ward Churchill, identity questions

Ward Churchill, identity questions
« on: April 09, 2005, 04:23:34 PM »
I just heard about this situation questioning Ward Churchill's Native American-ness today. (I know I'm late... looks like the whole thing came up over 2 mos ago, but...)

Here's a link to one reporter's take on the issue.

I was just wondering if anyone else had any thoughts on Churchill's  Native/Non Native-ness, or on self-definition of identity.

The idea of anyone having to "prove" racial identity is a bit disturbing to me -- since race is a social construction and classification, I guess it seems to me like no one can really "prove" anything, other than how many ancestors were classified one way or the other. So I would err on the side of asking people to self define. Doesn't it seem arbitrary that Churchill could join a tribe if he could prove he was 1/4 "pure" Native American but not if he could only prove 3/16? Or 1/16? It seems to me more important that he identifies consistently as Native, not only in situations where it is to his advantage to do so. But if anyone is interested in discussing this, I'd love to hear other opinions. I wonder why  prominent Native leaders are so concerned about standardizing and policing the perceived racial purity of other self-identified Native activists.   


Re: Ward Churchill, identity questions
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2005, 11:24:24 AM »
It's because the Native American tribes don't want other people using the "native American" status for exploitation in the Native American community.

So realistic scenario, Indian Gaming, which is suppose to be Native American owned casinos.  If anyone can come along and claim "native American" status, all kinds of people will open up casinos.

So to solve the problem, Native american tribes have registers, which bona fide "native Americans" have to register with and prove their status by bloodlines.

Though this can be controversial also.  I personally know this woman, who's the wife of a colleague.  She's 1/4 Cherokee and registered with her "tribe", but you look at her, and she's blonde haired and blue eyed, and she has NO clue to the Cherokee culture.

But she's registered!  Ironic!

Incidentally, the "native American" status, defined by tribal laws, is NOT the same as how it is defined by US federal and state laws.

In Ward Churchill's case, his claim of his status was NOT made on applications for official considerations, during his hiring and promotions.

Plus, the tribe issued him the "associate membership", and that was never revoked.

So if Churchill continues to claim his membership, he is not technically lying, as long as the tribe does not revoke his membership.

Part of this is the tribe's own fault, because they issued a huge flurry of "associate memberships" to people, in the hopes of gaining public notoriety, including the former president Clinton.

*But back to the point of the validity of STANDARDIZING racial status for the "native Americans", it is a difficult thing.

Today, there are more people in US with mixed race than ever before.

And it is somewhat impossible to categorize the people using old standards.

There is no easy solution to the problem of preserving minority cultures.

But I don't see how categorizing a 3/4 Caucasian lady, who hasn't the slightest concept of Cherokee culture, as Cherokee, will help to preserve the Cherokee tribal culture.

Perhaps, the standard should be made on the culture basis.