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Scholarship under scrutiny
Churchill's essays lack originality, says N.M. law professor
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Essays by embattled University of Colorado ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill contain passages almost identical to those of other authors, a New Mexico scholar charges.

University of New Mexico law professor John LaVelle said such similarities occurred in Churchill's writings at least three times in the early 1990s.

In at least one of the cases mentioned by LaVelle, however, Churchill cites the original writer in a footnote but does not acknowledge that the wording is almost verbatim.

LaVelle made the charge in a 1999 essay published in Wicazo Sa Review, an Arizona-based American Indian studies journal.

LaVelle quoted paragraphs from Churchill's works along with the corresponding parts of the other writers' essays, each of which was published before Churchill's. The wording is substantially the same.

LaVelle declined to comment Thursday on his 1999 article that rips Churchill and accuses him of inventing information and of sloppy scholarship.

Churchill could not be reached for comment.

Churchill has been under fire nationally since a 2001 essay came to light in which he appeared to sympathize with the Sept. 11 attackers. He has stepped down as head of CU's ethnic studies department but retains his $94,000-per-year teaching position.

Gov. Bill Owens and some state lawmakers have called on Churchill to resign, and the CU regents have ordered a review of his work.

The main thrust of LaVelle's essay is that Churchill invents or distorts facts.

That charge was echoed Thursday by scholars in Washington, D.C., and Texas.

"He just makes things up," said Guenter Lewy, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts who lives in Washington.

In an article published in the journal Commentary in September, Lewy dismissed as bogus Churchill's claim that the Army intentionally spread small pox among American Indians in 1837.

Thomas Brown, a sociology professor at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, reached the same conclusion about Churchill's account of the 1837 incident.

Churchill is known for appending voluminous footnotes to his essays. But Lewy and Brown, working separately, found that the sources Churchill cited did not support the claim that the Army intentionally spread small pox.

LaVelle, the law professor, had the same experience with Churchill's claim that an 1877 federal law defined Indians by their percentage of Indian blood. Churchill repeatedly has compared the federal act with the racial purity laws adopted in Nazi Germany.

But LaVelle found no such provision in the 1877 law. In fact, tribes decide who is eligible to be called an Indian, LaVelle writes.

LaVelle wrote that the provision was "fabricated," either by Churchill or by his ex-wife, M. Annette Jaimes, who later changed her name to Jaimes Guerrero. She was the editor of the volume in which comments about the 1877 act appear.

In another instance, Churchill's footnote intended to cite the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act in fact refers to a provision governing the construction of bridges over navigable waterways, LaVelle wrote.

One of the instances LaVelle cites as Churchill's writings being similar to another writer's involves an essay by Jaimes Guerrero on the 1877 law. A paragraph in her essay is almost identical to one in an essay Churchill published one year later. Churchill citied her in a footnote but didn't acknowledge that the wording was almost the same.

Jaimes Guerrero, who teaches women's studies at San Francisco State University, could not be reached for comment.

Another instance cited by LaVelle in which Churchill uses language very similar to another writer's involves a work by Rebecca Robbins, a Montana resident who writes on Indian issues. She could not be reached for comment.

The third is by Fay Cohen of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. In an e-mail Thursday, she declined to comment on LaVelle's allegations.

LaVelle also charges that Churchill repeats the same incorrect information in several books.

That was the conclusion of Brown, the Lamar University professor. Although Churchill's works seem voluminous, Brown said, he reprints the same essays and uses the same material over and over again.

"If you buy three Churchill books, you might get two books of material," Brown said.

Similar passages

A paragraph included in a 1993 essay by Ward Churchill bears a strong resemblance to one that appeared in a 1992 essay by M. Annette Jaimes, his wife at the time. Churchill cites Jaimes in a footnote but made no reference to the similarity of the wording nor put the paragraph in quotes.

Churchill

The Indian Citizenship Act greatly confused the circumstances even of many of the blooded and federally-certified Indians, and imposed legal obligations of citizenship upon them. As for the noncertified, mixed-blood people, their status was finally "clarified": they had been absorbed into the American mainstream at the stroke of the congressional pen. Despite the act having technically left certified Indians occupying the status of citizenship within their own indigenous nation as well as the U.S. (a "dual form" of citizenship so awkward as to be sublime), the juridicial door had been opened by which the weight of Indian obligations would begin to accrue more to the U.S. than to themselves.

- Struggle for the Land, a volume of essays by Ward Churchill published in 1993

Jaimes

The Indian Citizenship Act greatly confused the circumstances even of many of the blooded and federally certified Indians insofar as it was held to bear legal force, and to carry legal obligations, whether or not any given Indian or group of Indians wished to be a U.S. citizen. As for the host of non-certifed, mixed-blood people residing in the U.S., their status was finally "clarified": they had been definitionally absorbed into the American mainstream at the stroke of the congressional pen. And, despite the fact that the act technically left certified Indians occupying the status of citizenship in their own indigenous nation as well as in the U.S. (a "dual form" of citizenship so awkward as to be sublime), the juridicial door had been opened by which the weight of Indian obligations would begin to accrue to the U.S. than to themselves.

- An essay by M. Annette Jaimes included in the volume The State of Native America published in 1992

or 303-442-8729

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