The Ethnic Studies Echo Chamber
If one thing has become abundantly clear to me as I've delved deeper into Ward Churchill's writings and the general field of Ethnic Studies, it is that Ethnic Studies is little more than an academic echo chamber dominated by a few loud voices, Churchill's being among the loudest. Now, most fields of study are similarly repetitious, but what makes the Ethnic Studies echo chamber particularly troublesome is that many of the academics within the field are not academics at all, but rather, they are political activists with teaching jobs.
Why is this so? I won't go into the emergence of professorial activism, since that subject has been covered thoroughly here. Suffice it to say that since the '60s, the Humanities in general and Ethnic Studies in particular (requiring as it does so little real scholarship) have attracted vast numbers of otherwise unemployable activists. The short hours, the long breaks, the ample salaries, and the endless opportunities to inculcate gullible students with one's beliefs make this a near-perfect safe-house from which to conduct one's real business of political activism.
Ward Churchill's entire career has been both a mirror and a prototype of this merging of academia and activism. And now that career, as well as his body of work, has been called into question. Of course he will defend himself. But the real threat of the investigation of Churchill's work is not merely to Churchill's continued employment at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Most onlookers understand, at least on a visceral level, that this battle represents much more than that.
Most telling of the true scope of this battle is that Churchill's academic peers are so vociferous, so strident in defending him. The simple fact of the matter is that they must defend him. Their own sinecures are threatened when Churchill is threatened. Much of their work would be eviscerated should the vast array of Churchill citations suddenly be rendered worthless. The work of Vine Deloria, of Bruce Johansen, of Winona LaDuke, of Robert A. Williams, Jr.—activists all, Churchill supporters all—the work of all of these is hopelessly intertwined and interdependent, each providing rationale for the others' theses.
Churchill cites Deloria, who cites Johansen, who cites Williams, who cites Churchill.* But what happens when just one of those sources is shown to be irrelevant, or worse, false? How much of what presently constitutes the field of Ethnic Studies will have to be reconstructed from the ground up? What happens when a single joker is removed from this house of cards?
Nothing of import, save perhaps the restoration of a subfield of study to its rightful parents, History and Anthropology departments. And, of course, a vast lamentation from activists suddenly deprived of audience, income, and succor.
* I've been called to task for this statement (which I considered a rhetorical example of the circularity of citations and proofs offered by those named rather than actual cites), hence the addition of links to citations.
Additionally, it's been pointed out that Winona LaDuke is not a college professor. This is correct, although her upcoming speaking schedule indicates a lively interest in her by academics. Oh, and LaDuke's not only cited Churchill at least twice (in her book All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life), but also co-authored with Churchill a chapter in The State of Native America, edited by Churchill's second wife, M. Annette Jaimes.
Additionally, Vine Deloria has written forwards for two of Johansen's books: Debating Democracy: Native American Legacy of Freedom, and Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of Democracy. Deloria is arguably the most cited historian among Ethnic Studies texts.
BTW: I found so many occurrences of Churchill citing himself that I quit recording them. I can say without fear of contradiction that Churchill could write a lengthy book comprised solely of footnotes citing himself. And worse, somebody would buy it, and, worse still, within weeks, it would be on required reading lists in Ethnic Studies departments around the world.
I'll update the list as research progresses.