- "Living My Native Life Deadly":Red Lake, Ward Churchill, and the Discourses of Competing Genocides
On January 21, 2005, Hamilton College's student newspaper broke a story that called attention to a group of conservative students who took umbrage with an invitation extended to Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado–Boulder and author of several books that examine the genocide of American Indians, popular culture and representations of Indigenous peoples, and the colonial fantasies of the United States. Informed by conservative commentator David Horowitz's accusations that universities across the United States have become breeding grounds for unpatriotic liberals, the students drew attention to an article that Churchill wrote in the hours that followed the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In that article, entitled "Some People Push Back," Churchill questioned the characterizations of 9/11 victims as "innocents," writing instead that "If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it."1 Within a week of his 2001 article coming to light, Joe Scarborough and Bill O'Reilly had called Churchill out. In the media storm that followed, Churchill was first characterized as a radically un-American liberal academic, then as a fascist, and ultimately as a wannabe white man pretending to be Indian.
Two months to the day after Hamilton's student newspaper first broke the story about Churchill, the national media cast its eyes again on Indian Country as news of a school shooting in Minnesota emerged. Though the media first tried to frame the shootings within the well-established narrative of Columbine, the fact that the event took place on [End Page 310] Red Lake Reservation quickly complicated things, though not until well after journalists and newscasters had constructed Jeff Weise, the shooter, as a neo-Nazi, video-game playing, alienated teenager. The result was that, during the first four months of 2005, Indian Country received more mainstream national media attention than it has in recent memory, with Bill O'Reilly calling for Ward Churchill's arrest for the crime of "little Eichmanns" and the New York Times reflecting on gun violence and "Native Nazis" lurking on Minnesota reservations.
While the references in both instances to World War II and the Holocaust may reflect an instance of news-cycle synchronicity, the juxtaposition of these two events within the media and the U.S. national consciousness suggests that there are deeper historical anxieties about the relationship between the United States and Native nations. The provocative enjambment of Native, Nazi, and Holocaust, as well as the two news stories, gestures toward the competition that emerges between U.S. colonialist understandings of Indigenous peoples that perpetually disavow any genocidal conduct on the part of the nation and mainstream media's awareness and sensitivity to the historical significance that the horror of the Holocaust represents.
In an attempt to understand how rival narratives of genocide compete even at the cost of disavowing other historical experiences, this article considers how the U.S. national media represented and framed Red Lake in the wake of Ward Churchill's emergence on the national radar. The first section of my article examines how nineteenth-century discourses of Manifest Destiny and stereotypes of noble and savage Indians informed media images and phrases that emerged to describe the events at Red Lake. The second section further contextualizes Red Lake and Minnesota within nineteenth-century historical events that epitomize the United States' genocidal policies enacted against African Americans and American Indians that resolve into Jim Crow, lynching, and the largest mass execution to occur within the United States. In the final section I discuss how Ward Churchill's controversial rhetoric and reactions to it and him are symptomatic of deeper U.S. anxieties about Indigenous peoples, genocide, and authenticity.
The link between Ward Churchill and Red Lake is not one that should be drawn casually nor unproblematically despite the conflation that occurred within the media. On the one hand is an activist...