April 6, 2005 in City

Churchill speaks freely at EWU

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jed Conklin photo

Ward Churchill pumps his fist to the crowd as he leaves the podium after his speech to hundreds at Eastern Washington University on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

Ward Churchill, who compared 9/11 victims to “little Eichmanns,” spoke at Eastern Washington University’s Cheney campus Tuesday, bringing mostly applause but some boos from a crowd of 500.

Several other colleges canceled Churchill’s talk after he received death threats for his controversial essay, and EWU president Stephen Jordan also tried to block Churchill’s talk for fear students would be endangered.

Two SWAT team members dressed in black standing atop the Pence Union Building were in clear view of the crowd as Churchill spoke. Police were seen throughout campus.

Churchill, a University of Colorado professor, walked from the American Indian studies building to a classroom in the administration building with about 25 students from the Indian studies program. Campus security guards led and trailed the procession.

After the talk to mainly students and administrators in the classroom, Churchill appeared at a microphone in the center of campus.

“I’m proud to be here. ‘Miigwech,’ as they say,” Churchill said, using an Ojibwe expression of thanks. In his classroom lecture, Churchill said he stood behind his essay and said the truth of it is what has gotten people so upset. He also pointed out that the attack on his essay came less than 24 hours after he and eight other leaders were acquitted for disrupting a Denver Columbus Day celebration.

Churchill praised students for bringing him to campus despite Jordan’s cancellation of the keynote speech.

Churchill added a jab at Jordan, suggesting the president’s cancellation of his speech was done to enhance his chance to be president at a Denver college.

“He just considered this institution to be his private property that he can use to posture and preen in order to position himself to become head of Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colorado,” Churchill said. Jordan didn’t return a phone call late Tuesday.

Scott Wheat, a Cheney attorney, had filed an injunction against EWU Monday asking the school to stop trying to block Churchill’s use of school facilities. U.S. District Judge William Fremming Nielsen denied the motion, stating there wasn’t enough information to make a decision and there was no time to conduct hearings.

Churchill, in the 60-minute class and then again in the center of campus before hundreds of viewers, said the ruling was a victory because, although the case was rejected based on timeliness, it still found EWU’s president and board of trustees acted illegally and had violated the Constitution, Churchill said.

“It was stated clearly, and in English, that the administration’s posture here, in attempting to cancel (the formal speech) … carried clear implications of unconstitutional prior restraint of speech,” Churchill said. “That is to say, the judge found it illegal, too.”

The court ruling said any burden on free speech is serious, but it does not make a declaration that EWU’s actions were illegal.

According to the seven-page ruling, “questions remain as to whether Mr. Churchill was, in fact, entirely barred from speaking.” The case refers to Jordan’s offer to bring Churchill to campus with an interactive video link. ” … (The) court is unable to determine whether the decision to cancel Mr. Churchill’s engagement was the result of constitutional time, place or manner regulation.”

Churchill talked about the attention he’s received for his essay written in 2001 that explained how 9/11 victims were not innocent but helped spread U.S. policy that harmed Iraqi civilians. He compared them to Adolf Eichmann, who executed Adolf Hitler’s plan to exterminate Jews during World War II.

“I got more space dedicated to me in the local media last weekend inspecting my baby pictures and the win-loss record of my high school 1965 football season then they devoted to the pope’s death yesterday,” Churchill said. “I did a comparison on the plane on the way out here.”

After Churchill’s 12-minute talk at the center of campus, he walked away from the microphone toward another classroom when Cynthia Gilbert and her daughter Audra Gilbert started booing him.

“It just popped out of me,” the older Gilbert said later. “I had no idea where it came from.”

Gilbert said an older woman immediately approached, grabbed her and stood inches from her face without saying a word. One of Gilbert’s friends reached over to put an arm between them to end the face-off. Several students began debating Gilbert, her daughter and another woman. Gilbert said they came to pray for Churchill, but after hearing him talk, Gilbert said she couldn’t stay quiet.

“When he put President Jordan down, that was so wrong,” Gilbert said.

Grant Crowell, owner of a Web-design company in Illinois, Grantastic Designs, started debating several people in the crowd and criticized Churchill for not having a question-and-answer session with the crowd. Crowell was visiting a client in Spokane. He also questioned Churchill’s Indian identity.

“There are 20,000 Native Americans including (the American Indian Movement) who denounce him,” Crowell said. Crowell said that 10 years earlier at the University of Hawaii he was called a Nazi by Churchill. “I don’t care if he’s all cracker or all Indian.”

In the classroom, Churchill addressed what he called attacks on his heritage on a national level from both Indians and non-Indians alike.

“He hasn’t proven he’s an Indian,” Churchill said, mimicking claims made about him. “Want to talk to my grandma? Want to talk to my band?”

He said his band of Indian people has no land base and has been resisting being absorbed into the larger Cherokee Indian nation.

The attacks on his identity and his essay all began less than 24 hours after a news conference in the Denver American Indian Movement headquarters about the acquittal of eight leaders and 300 people who were charged with a variety of offenses for protesting Denver’s Columbus Day celebration.

In the class he talked about the American government’s genocidal acts that ran five generations of Indian people through boarding schools, which put out dysfunctional people who aren’t accepted as white and can no longer function as Indians.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email