Controversial academic and American Indian Movement (AIM) of Colorado co-director Ward Churchill will speak on campus tonight about civil rights and cultural activism.
The American Indian Student Association (AISA) is hosting the event in Campbell Hall at 7:30 p.m. Churchill, whose lecture tonight will focus on the concepts espoused by civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., has been the center of national controversy since writing his essay, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In his essay, Churchill called the victims of the attacks “little Eichmanns,” and argued that America had brought the attacks upon itself because of its embargoes imposed upon Iraq. The term “little Eichmanns” refers to Adolf Eichmann – a high-ranking Nazi official responsible for identifying and transporting Jews during the World War II Holocaust.
Despite his work as an activist in the organization, the AIM Grand Governing Council denounced Churchill for his comments and has also questioned his claim to Native American heritage. According to the organization’s website, group members believe Churchill, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has been “masquerading as an Indian for years behind his dark glasses and beaded headband.”
The Council alleges that Churchill’s claim to legitimacy – his possession of an Oklahoman Keetoowah tribe membership card – is honorary and was “at one time issued to anyone.”
According to AISA Chair Maria Reifel Saltzberg, Churchill’s appearance is not meant to stir up controversy.
“He’s not coming to speak on what all of the hubbub was about,” Saltzberg said. “He’s talking about civil rights and violent versus nonviolent movements, rather than the 9/11 attacks.”
According to Saltzberg, the nature of Churchill’s views did not complicate AISA’s search for funding. The group received money from the Associated Students Finance Board, the A.S. Student Commission on Racial Equality, the Religious Studies Dept., the Educational Opportunities Program, the Office of Student Life and the Office of Academic Preparedness and Equal Opportunity.
“[We had] no trouble with funding,” Saltzberg said. “At this campus, one of the things that impresses me most is the availability for free speech.”
A.S. Finance Board Chair Aseye Allah said the divisive nature of Churchill’s views were not an issue for the group when it decided to fund the event.
“I’m very aware that he’s controversial,” Allah said. “It’s more of an open discussion. It’s good to hear different speakers and things – that’s why I think it was good for us to fund this.”
Saltzberg said the event, staged in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, will center on topics the late civil rights leader advocated.
“He’ll be taking about the civil rights movement and cultural activism, specifically,” Saltzberg said.
She also said she thinks the event is monumental for AISA.
“This is one of the most ambitious events we’ve put on in the last several years,” Saltzberg said. “AISA is a really small organization, and there are only a few core members that help support our work.”
According to Saltzberg, AISA does not take a position on Ward Churchill’s views.
“AISA is a cultural organization; we’re not political,” Saltzberg said. “We’re not bringing him because we have a particular stance, but I expect him to be questioned on [his views and comments].”
Tickets for Churchill’s lecture are available at the A.S. Ticket Office at $10 for the general public and $2 for students.