“Why do you think we call it struggle?”
by Faith Attaguile contributing editor, Dark Night field notes firstname.lastname@example.org with special thanks and gratitude to Lance Kramer and Michele Cheung whose voices ring throughout this document February 1998
Its coming from the sorrow on the street; the holy places where the races meet; from the homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen to determine who will serve and who will eat
-Democracy, Leonard Cohen, 1992
Talking the talk doesn’t mean we’re walking the walk. Neither does it immunize us from aping the power structure we claim to oppose. When we embrace unsubstantiated information as “facts,” when we rush to judgment, when we reflect greed, authoritarianism, competition, and racism in our internal politics æ we undermine our struggle as much as any cop can. It is not enough to master politically correct rhetoric to express our worldview. What really counts is behaving and modeling the ways that yield that worldview. We are not doing this when we accept sound bites long enough to convey an impression of substance but too short to allow informed analysis. Neither are we when we slavishly honor the word in print or from the podium without investigation. Such unquestioning acceptance of half-truths or speciously documented assertions make us as fatally vulnerable to disruption from within as it does dissent from without. Whether systematically introduced by outside agitators or stemming from authoritarian or competitive tendencies from within, innuendo and rumor mindlessly repeated as “facts” have several devastating effects. They lend a progressive veneer to motives formed by the very values and aspirations they claim to scorn. Their easiness further absolves members of the movement from committing to the hard and deliberate work necessary to yield informed judgments. Only a routinely and rigorously developed historical and analytical consciousness can protect our work from manipulation by old tricksters in progressive clothes, and keep us from becoming “progressive” Talking Barbies playing up to the very forces we are aligned to confront. “Trust me” should weigh as much in our political analysis as it should in the back seat of a Chevy. You can object that this kind of self-examination is just one more thing that keeps a movement divided and unable to focus on its outer-directed aims, but no movement can survive, much less achieve its goals, without regularly assessing itself on this score.
Shattering a Movement
I’ve seen nations rise and fall I’ve heard their stories, heard them all but love’s the only engine of survival Your servant here, he has been told to say it clear, to say it cold: It’s over, it ain’t going any furtherº Get ready for the future; it is murder.
The Future, Leonard Cohen, 1992
The years since the 1970s height of the American Indian Movement’s (AIM) activism provide a monitory example of how internally adopted disinformation tactics can destroy a grassroots movement’s potential and impact. The extent to which externally implanted disinformation rocked the movement prior to the mid-70s has been amply documented, 1 but many factors have contributed to an unhealthy reluctance to examine how much the movement’s own behavior contributed to its hollowing out during and subsequent to that period. A quarter century after its birth, after splits, attempted reconciliations and spotty and coordinated resurgences, AIM sadly illustrates how vulnerability from within can open a movement to self-destruction, susceptibility to the enemy, and diversion from organizational goals. All progressive movements, each in its own way susceptible to the same failings, can learn from it.
Among several sharply disputed origin stories, there is consensus that what emerged in the 60s and 70s as AIM was a loose coalition of several groups of young Native Americans who saw the era’s general unrest as an opportunity to move native concerns and aspirations into public consideration and debate. It arose as a movement rather than a political party. In Cleveland, in Minneapolis, in Omaha, in San Francisco and elsewhere in the late 60s, young Native Americans, mostly urban with no reservation associations or substantial ties to their tribal traditions, came together to consider the plight of native peoples and to advocate for redress of both current and historic grievances. These local organizations, tied by an agenda of native self-determination and liberation, produced the informal alignment now known as AIM. The accomplishments of those who struggled under its banner then, while open to interpretation and debate, were unarguably significant. Not only did they halt the continued disintegration of North American native cultures by asserting their fundamental vitality and strength; they also demonstrated willingness to act aggressively against continued abuse.
The bravery of the early AIM activists cannot be contested. Even those who disagreed then and now with AIM’s policies or tactics respect their early audacity. But after COINTELPRO neutralized AIM in the 70s, the movement survived through the 80s more in individual attitude or commitment than as an organization, barely recognizable in form. 2 Even its most ardent supporters had been stunned by the federal might thrown against it without protest from either the American public or the progressive community. But the 100th anniversary of the Wounded Knee massacre and the Columbus Quincentennary in 1992 awoke voices that had been silent since the federal repression of the 70s on a host of issues. The continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier on fabricated charges since 1976; the continued desecration of native gravesites and remains; the continued federal attempts to destroy the integrity of native cultures; and the continued native efforts to recover lands and rights lost through treaty manipulations led to a resurgence of activism. Yet these efforts were stilled almost as quickly as they had risen, the early gains of the 90s wasted through internal controversy.
Today AIM consists of two fundamentally different movements. One wing, with all the trappings of an organized political party, describes itself as National AIM, Inc. (NAIMI) and is headed by Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, whose subordination of native liberation to their own personal advancement amplifies and documents talking native talk while walking the corporate walk. NAIMI is nicely organized under the statutory provisions defining corporate structures, evincing the characteristics of a privately-held business enterprise replete with corporate offices, regional subsidiaries, a self-appointed command structure, membership rolls, fees and dues, fundraising capabilities, and vanity license plates. NAIMI, by its own admission, is heavily funded by the US government and by neoliberal corporate structures dictating governmental policies towards indigenous peoples throughout the world.
The other wing of the movement consists of a loosely knit collection of local groups describing themselves as the Confederation of Autonomous Chapters of the American Indian Movement (autonomous AIM). The autonomous chapters each tend to operate with a more locally-focused agenda and scrupulously avoid anything approximating a central command or decision structure, a means of governance they associate with the dominant culture, and one inconsistent with native ways. Consciously eschewing the organizational trappings, the fascination with money, and financial ties with either the US government or corporate America, autonomous AIM’s structure remains closer to the spirit of the AIM of the 60s and 70s than the corporate edifice that is NAIMI. While autonomous AIM’s focus is primarily local, many local leaders also actively address national and international indigenous liberation issues.
The conflicts and disinformation campaigns leading to and following AIM’s fracture are indeed unfortunate. If their roots lie in the behavior and methods that created and perpetuate the conflicts, their continuation rests in the extent to which the native liberation movement and associated progressive movements refuse to undertake the analysis needed to reach their own conclusions regarding such conflicts.
Smearing an individual
Give me back my broken night, my secret room, my secret life. Its lonely here æ there’s no one left to torture. Give me absolute control over every living soul and lie beside me, baby. That’s an order!
-The Future, Leonard Cohen, 1992
How the post-fracture divide has been fueled by unconscious imitation of the dominant culture’s values, values at odds with the original movement’s liberatory aims, can be seen in the history of a single man æ Ward Churchill. 3 There exist two diametrically opposed views of Churchill, a University of Colorado professor, Colorado AIM leader, international indigenous activist, and strong critic of the neoliberal world order. The first view is accessible in his numerous books and articles as well as his unrelenting support of indigenous liberation struggles in North America and globally. 4
The other view is put forth by the NAIMI Bellecourt brothers, whose claims to leadership of the “American Indian Movement” seem to require silencing any voices not in harmony with their own. They use the same methods to create and perpetuate the conflict that COINTELPRO used to devastate AIM in the 70s. The result is that the conflict itself effectively reduces the American Indian Movement to fringes so focused on internal dynamics as to have no positive impact on the struggle for native liberation.
A Chicago Example
My attention was focused on these issues through my association with the April 1996 CAN-Free Mumia benefit in Chicago. A coalition of Chicago groups supporting Mumia Abu-Jamal, former Philadelphia Black Panther and progressive radio commentator sentenced to die in Pennsylvania’s electric chair on the bogus charge of killing a police officer, 5 invited Churchill to participate in an event they were holding. The invitation was not his first from Chicago-based activist groups. Unlike some speakers, he frequently assumes travel expenses to make such appearances. As on other occasions, he accepted CAN-Free’s invitation, traveling at his own expense. His name was duly put on the promotional material.
Shortly thereafter, CAN-Free Mumia coordinator Marguarette Powers received a phone call from a woman named Kim Feike who said she was a member of a Chicago-based antiauthoritarian group. She announced that it was time for “white activists to take a stand.” She said she had been in contact with Vernon Bellecourt of the “American Indian Movement” (NAIMI) who had advised her that Churchill was “not Indian;” had been expelled from the “American Indian Movement, the International Indian Treaty Council, and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee” as “a provocateur, disruptive and dishonest;” and that he was under investigation by the University of Colorado for “his false claims of being an Indian.” She further explained that she felt obligated to demand that Churchill be prevented from “misrepresenting Indians” by speaking on behalf of a condemned black activist, and threatened to picket the event if Churchill spoke there. Powers, mightily puzzled, told Feike that the coalition had invited Churchill because of his well-established expertise on political repression in the United States. 6 When it was clear that the invitation would not be withdrawn, Feike simply hung up.
Soon after, Powers received three calls on her answering machine. The first came from Vernon Bellecourt of NAIMI, who repeated Feike’s allegations, suggesting that Powers call him back so they could “talk further” and offering to send “documentation” if Powers wished. Another came from one Tom Pierce who called Churchill a “fraud” and an “FBI agent.” The third came from “Charlotte from the American Indian Movement,” who made the same unsubstantiated claims. Only Bellecourt left a phone number. When Powers identified herself on returning his call, Vernon claimed to be on another line and said he would call Powers back. The call never came.
None of these callers who claimed to be representatives of the “American Indian Movement” expressed interest in the event itself or even token solidarity with Abu-Jamal. Instead, just before the event, the coalition received a letter from Feike with classic disinformation “documentation” presenting unsupported allegations as “facts.” Nothing passed on by Feike could have been considered substantiation for the serious charges she made against Churchill, and despite her efforts Churchill remained on the roster of speakers. 7
He ultimately delivered an eloquent and stirring speech, but overall attendance was much sparser than expected. Whether this was a result of Vernon Bellecourt’s maneuverings is not certain. What is certain is that his attempted impairment of Churchill’s credibility was a move to mute one of the more stimulating voices for liberation on today’s scene. To the extent Bellecourt might have succeeded, the major loser was certainly Mumia Abu-Jamal, a man in desperate need of all the help he can get. The already weakened organizing capacity of the Chicago left was further disorganized, and the only tangible winner was the state, Bellecourt’s and NAIMI’s professed oppressor. Bellecourt’s efforts to deny Churchill a platform were taken without regard for their impact on either Abu-Jamal or his advocates. Feike’s blind obedience of Bellecourt’s commands tucked her into the same bed of lies.
If this attack on Churchill were an isolated incident, no matter how unsavory, it wouldn’t be worth extensive remark. All public figures are subject to occasional irrational attacks. However, over the past five years, similar occurrences have followed Churchill in such far-flung locales as Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawai’i, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North and South Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, reaching as far as Canada and Europe. Concurrently, at least two well-circulated periodicals, Tim Giago’s Indian Country Today and Paul DeMain’s News From Indian Country, have devoted themselves to a pseudo-investigation against Churchill and a seemingly coordinated campaign of comparable defamation has been conducted on the internet. 8
The details alleged differ slightly from place to place and time to time, many of them contradictory. In the San Francisco Bay area, a woman named Carol Standing Elk attributed to him the protean ability of being simultaneously a CIA agent, an FBI agent, a New Ager, a Moonie, a hoax and a Klansman. 9 Similarly, in a single 1994 editorial, News From Indian Country editor Paul DeMain first claimed that Churchill had only “very recently” joined AIM, then (citing FBI counterintelligence specialist David Price, no less) completely reversed his thesis, suggesting instead that Churchill was already well enough placed within the movement by 1975 to have brought about the Jumping Bull firefight resulting in Leonard Peltier’s imprisonment. 10 The supposedly factual basis for these allegations is no less logically muscled. In Colorado, David Seals’ “proof” of Churchill’s supposed intelligence connections is Churchill’s brief employment by Soldier of Fortune magazine in 1977. 11
All these accusers, from Indian Country Today publisher Tim Giago to Carole Standing Elk, have a more than cordial relationship with NAIMI and the Bellecourt brothers. By 1993, they had systemized their campaign against Churchill using the time-worn tactics known as “badjacketing,” or “snitchjacketing.” 12 They contacted his employer, publishers and speakers bureaus. They also reached his real and potential political associates and students, the local press, and the sponsors of virtually every speaking engagement he accepted that was publicized in advance.
I can’t run no more with that lawless crowd while the killers in high places say their prayers out loud. But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up a thundercloud and they’re going to hear from me.
æ Anthem, Leonard Cohen
COINTELPRO enabled the FBI and police to exacerbate the movements’ internal stresses until beleaguered activists turned on one another… Otherwise manageable disagreements were inflamed by COINTELPRO until they erupted into hostile splits that shattered alliances, tore groups apart, and drove dedicated activists out of the movement. Government documents implicate the FBI and police in the bitter breakups of such pivotal groups as the Black Panther Party, SDS, and Liberation News Service, and the collapse of repeated efforts to form long-term coalitions across racial, class, and regional lines. While genuine political issues were often involved in these disputes, the outcome could have been different if government agencies had not covertly intervened to subvert compromise and fuel hostility and competition.
æ War at Home, Brian Glick
The CAN-Free Mumia benefit incidents display NAIMI’s modus operandi. Someone purporting to be an official of “National AIM Inc.” contacts those hosting an event in which Churchill is an announced participant. The standard set of accusations and allegations are spewed out as facts. In most cases, documentation is promised, but when and if it arrives, it contains a pair of “expulsion letters” crafted by the callers, repeating the allegations in some detail but offering no substantiation. To create an illusion of corroboration, the letters are usually accompanied by several “news” articles and editorials by Giago and DeMain, again merely repeating the accusations. Where possible, local allies – mostly ignorant of the issues involved but eager to please and “take a stand”- are solicited to support “AIM’s National Office.”
Especially if they meet resistance, the local press is alerted to the “controversy” generated, and the callers wind up their contact with hints of violence – or at least disruptive pickets – unless Churchill’s engagement is cancelled. 13 Sometimes, a NAIMI speaker is offered as a replacement for a hefty fee (Vernon and Clyde Bellecourt have indicated they’d “need” a minimum of $1,500 plus expenses to do what Churchill does better out of political commitment). 14 The threats have mostly turned out to be bluffs. No protesters have ever actually materialized in Chicago, for instance. 15 With few exceptions, the Bellecourts and their agents do not use the time, place and audience the event affords to confront Churchill in an open forum or expose their allegations to public inquiry. A look at the exceptions indicates why any tactician would recommend their confining their operations to the background.
At a Northern California AIM/Radio KPFA fundraiser in Berkeley, NAIMI’s Carole Standing Elk, surrounded by what appeared to be a contingent of about fifty people, rose to inform an audience of 2,000 that while she agreed with “just about everything this man [Churchill] says, he’s not Indian enough to say it.” It turned out, however that her own group consisted of no more than six people. 16 The closer attention her action provoked revealed only six out of her contingent who were known to work with her regularly. The rest were substance abusers assigned to Standing Elk’s husband Darryl, a Bay Area drug and alcohol counselor who had used his influence to instruct them to show up at the auditorium that night. (In the midst of Carole’s racist pronouncement, one of these confused “protesters” approached one of the many AIM people supporting Churchill to ask, “What’s going on here, George?”). 17 The next day, someone identifying himself as an “AIM representative” – but not of the Northern California chapter for whom Churchill had done the fundraiser – talked $795 of the benefit’s proceeds from one if its ticket vendors, Black Oak Books. 18
In 1995 at Portland State University, five intoxicated Native Americans appeared at a public lecture Churchill was giving on behalf of the campus native student organization. After a five-minute disruption, they left at the request of Rose Hill, the university’s Indian program coordinator. Immediately afterwards, they were overheard at a pay phone in the hallway outside, “reporting” on their adventure to Vernon Bellecourt. One student then followed them several blocks to a bar, where he observed them celebrating their accomplishment. “The whole thing was extremely embarrassing,” says Hill, an Oneida. “Mr. Churchill was a guest of the students. He’d been invited to speak here, and he’d gone considerably out of his way to accommodate both our needs and our limited resources. His talk was powerful and well-received. Then these people attempt to destroy the dignity of the moment by displaying every negative stereotype of Indians held by the dominant society. One can only wonder what they thought they were achieving.” 19
NAIMI’s tactic of demonstrations against Churchill are precisely those used by the right wing when it comes up with “citizen” initiatives completely funded and created by themselves. They have not been notably successful because such efforts require more money than they have to buy the kind of publicity that manufactures factitious community support. They are forced to rely on disinformation topped off with verbal bluster and vague threats which have the advantage of being cheap. If you put the Federal witness relocation program at one end of the scale and the anonymous letter at the other to measure degrees of sophistication and expense in disinformation technique, NAIMI’s working up of community support is at the low end. While it is easy to scorn such pathetic performance, nonetheless it does collateral damage.
Sometimes the strategy works, sometimes it doesn’t. There is no way to ascertain the number of speaking invitations never extended to Churchill because of NAIMI’s activities, but there are two instances in which invitations already extended were withdrawn at NAIMI’s prompting. In 1993 and 1995 respectively, both SUNY Albany and University of New Hampshire administrators responded to what they perceived as “community pressure.” At SUNY, the result was that no event pertaining to Indians was held at all. 20 At New Hampshire, Clyde Bellecourt was accepted as Ward’s replacement. 21
The crudeness of NAIMI’s strategy has sometimes backfired, however, especially when they are dealing with people who have more information or integrity than the Albany and New Hampshire organizers. In 1993, Churchill was asked to sit on a tribunal on Native Hawaiian rights. Organizer Kekuni Blaisdell received four increasingly vociferous phone calls from Vernon Bellecourt registering objections. 22 The Tribunal not only retained Churchill but chose him for its rapporteur. 23 Another result was that, based largely upon his performance in Hawai’i, Churchill was asked by the Chiefs of Ontario to serve as an advocate in a tribunal they will be convening to consider the rights of native peoples of Canada. 24
At the University of Toledo, the run-up to a fall 1995 presentation drew “the most idiotic and concerted attempt at defamation I’ve ever encountered,” according to organizer Dr. Tom Barton. Churchill not only was not disinvited, but was immediately invited back to participate in a spring American Studies symposium on the effects of the Cold War. “He seemed an ideal choice,” says Barton, “Not only because he is an excellent speaker and scholar, but because much of our conference focused on McCarthyism, and he is so obviously being subjected to a contemporary manifestation of that very phenomenon.” 25
The integrity displayed by Blaisdell, Barton and others does not necessarily come without consequences. After Dr. Linda Pertusati (Oglala), head of the American Indian Studies Program at Bowling Green State University in Ohio rebuffed Vernon Bellecourt’s phone calls concerning their invitation to Churchill to speak in 1994, she was visited by the FBI. “I don’t know whether there was a direct connection,” says Pertusati, “but it did seem a little strange that the agents were saying many of the same things as Bellecourt.” 26 Pertusati, too, asked Churchill back as a keynote speaker, an offer later countermanded by the university’s higher administration. 27 Pertusati, an established scholar with solid publications and teaching evaluations, perhaps the only American Indian in the United States to hold two doctoral degrees, did not have her faculty contract renewed the next year. 28
That such contradictions and inconsistencies pass unchallenged in the movement is less a function of their authors’ masterful fabrication than testimony to how uncritically such fanciful distortions are accepted as truth by native and non-native activists alike.
The Disinformation Documents
Most of these claims have by now been interwoven into a standard disinformation packet such as that used by Feike in Chicago and distributed around the country and abroad from the NAIMI home office in the Twin Cities. They largely revolve around hysterical accusations that Churchill’s an agent and that he lacks “credentials” as an Indian and activist. As reporter Shelly Davis put it, “Vernon Bellecourt told me on at least four occasions that he would send me documentation to support what he wanted me to print as ‘fact’about Ward Churchill. When the material finally arrived, all it amounted to was a couple of letters Vernon himself had written, and a handful of newspaper clippings in which he’s quoted saying the same things. There was just no substance to it at all.” 29
The disinformation package’s overkill approach, attacking Churchill on many points at once, makes it difficult to answer succinctly. After taking on the task I found that the more I investigated, the more lies I uncovered. Some stem from ignorance of research procedures, some from racist assumptions, and some it would seem from conflicting political alignments, sheer jealousy and greed for power. I found that the authors of the disinformation package were learned students of the dominant culture, wrapping their campaign against Churchill in soundbites built on conscious lies, cynical innuendoes, and determined efforts to silence someone identified as a serious threat to their continued “mastery” over identified “turf” æ a far cry from the early liberatory goals if AIM.
“He’s an Agent!”
Only people unfamiliar with scholarly research processes and the implications of the Freedom of Information Act can deduce that “only a federal agent” could have had access to the FBI and CIA documents Churchill used to substantiate his groundbreaking studies of domestic counterintelligence operations, Agents of Repression and The COINTELPRO Papers. 30 That Jim Vander Wall, their co-author, is never similarly charged for accessing documents in the public domain points up the emptiness of the charge. Yet this has given rise to the charge that Churchill “must be a fed,” a “government infiltrator” and “provocateur,” calling to mind the 70s adage that the “first to point out another as a government plant is usually the government plant.” 31
“We mainly relied on the archives of attorneys who have handled key political cases,” notes Jim Vander Wall. “Jonathan Lubell, who handled part of Geronimo ji Jaga’s appeal, provided access to something like 170,000 pages of FBI material obtained through a Freedom of Information Act suit. Flint Taylor at the People’s Law Office in Chicago, who was co-counsel on the Hampton/Clark civil suit, provided access to another 110,000 pages on the Panthers. Bruce Ellison, one of Peltier’s appeals team, provided about 12,000 pages on AIM. And, of course, there’s a couple of million pages on everything from the Rosenberg spy case to Janis Joplin’s love life available at the FBI reading room in Washington, DC.” 32 Even if the Bellecourts do not understand the information gathering process in research, someone around them must. Certainly, antiChurchill polemicists Paul DeMain and Tim Giago know how to read and check source documentation. They illustrate a general and self-defeating reluctance in the native liberation and progressive movements to evaluate evidence or confine themselves to assertions for which they can assume personal responsibility. As a reflection of unconscious assumption of dominant cultural values, it evinces an antiintellectualism that gave rise to such shining lights of American history as the Know-Nothing Party.
Another assertion related to the accusers’ distance from firsthand familiarity with the material in question is that Churchill’s and Vander Wall’s Agents of Repression and COINTELPRO Papers are “filled with lies and inaccuracies.” 33 The lies and inaccuracies are never identified. They must be so hard to find that they passed the notice of people with acknowledged expertise on the subjects of the books, such as Noam Chomsky and the late William Kunstler who glowingly endorsed both works, and the Gustavus Myers Center for Human Rights at the University of Arkansas which bestowed a 1989 award upon Agents as one of the preceding year’s best books on intolerance in the United States. 34
Churchill’s role at Soldier of Fortune was hardly that of a true believer. Says Churchill, “I was there for a couple of months in late ’76 æ early-77, just long enough to get a handle on who was who, and what they were up to. I’ve never made any secret of it because it was part of the research for articles I wanted to write about the facts and fictions of U.S. mercenaries. In fact, I’ve included the information that I managed to get inside Soldier of Fortune in every piece I’ve written on the matter.” 35 The articles in question include a seminal exposé of the activities of American mercenaries in South Africa. Published in Africa Today in 1980, antimercenary organizer Rob Shware called it “the best work available on the subject.” 36 Others include pieces in the Colorado Daily and Daily World , and a profile of the magazine’s publisher, self-styled “king of the mercenaries” Robert K. Brown, published in the decidedly anti-CIA Covert Action/Information Bulletin in 1986, and in the Best of CAIB collection released in 1989. 37 As columnist Alexander Cockburn put it in 1992, “It seems to me that Churchill should be commended for this sort of investigative journalism, not condemned for it. 38
“He’s not Indian!”
The substantial effort to discredit Churchill’ Native American identity buys into several of the dominant culture’s racist assumptions and policies, ironically on the part of those who least stand to be served well by them. As in the attempts to link him to mainstream, right-wing or governmental agencies or organizations, the effort to destroy his credibility by playing the red race card is not only in itself racist but based on lies. The leader of the pack in this connection has always been Tim Giago, a notoriously anti-AIM South Dakota publisher who made his mark as chief propagandist and apologist for the lethally repressive COINTELPRO-supported Dickie Wilson régime on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 70s. 39 As early as 1988, trying to counter Churchill’s exposés of what transpired on Pine Ridge during the 70s, Giago used his Republican-backed newspaper Lakota Times (now Indian Country Today), to announce that Churchill was an “ethnic fraud” and “impostor” who “changes his tribal identity like some people change socks.” 40
In point of fact, there are five criteria by which native people are normally identified in the US-self-identification, genealogy, tribal enrollment, blood quantum and community recognition. 41 Churchill qualifies by all five standards. Let’s start with self-identification and genealogy. Contrary to Tim Giago’s claim that Churchill has identified himself as being of different peoples at different times, the record is absolutely clear that he has always identified as Cherokee (his mother’s lineage). The first conclusive evidence of this dates from a 1970 article on the Alcatraz occupation. 42 By 1975, having met his father for the first and only time in the interim, he added Creek, as in the identification he gave for an art show he mounted at the Sioux Indian Museum that year. 43 Thereafter, he added Métis -meaning one of mixed ancestry and culture – to accomplish what he called “truth in advertising.” 44 From 1979 onward, his self-descriptor was always “Creek/Cherokee Métis,” nothing else. Churchill has publicly challenged Giago to produce evidence of any other self-identification. 45 Giago has not responded.
Meanwhile, Paul DeMain has repeatedly printed that his “investigations” (what these are is never made clear) into Churchill’s genealogy reveal that because Churchill is not of American Indian descent, he “hides” his family history. Churchill responds that his family is as entitled to privacy as anyone else’s: “I don’t accept that these guys have any prerogative to hassle my 90-year-old grandmother, or my mother for that matter, and I don’t recognize their right to inspect these personal records any more than I would if they demanded my credit history or medical file.” Moreover, he has already published the relevant general information. 46 According to AIM leader Russell Means, a long-term friend with whom Churchill once shared his family documents, “Not only does Ward have Indian ancestry, he has more proof of it than I do.” 47
As to community recognition, Churchill has been active in several. In Boulder, where he has lived the last twenty years, Churchill’s record speaks for itself. He was hired as an Indian by the ‘committee of the Boulder Valley School District’s Title-IV Indian Education Project in 1977. He was hired as an Indian by the all-native staff of the American Indian Educational Opportunity Program at the University of Colorado Boulder campus in 1978. 48 “He has always been accepted as an Indian by the Indians in this town,” says Norbert S. Hill, Jr., an Oneida and former director of the Educational Opportunity Program, now head of the Boulder-based American Indian Science and Engineering Society. Hill cites that Churchill has been repeatedly honored by the Oyate Indian Student Organization at University of Colorado over the years. “I don’t agree with him on a lot of things,” Hill concludes, “but I’ve never known anybody who worked harder for Indian rights.” 49
In the Denver area, the story is the same. Bellecourtian accusations in the local press in 1993 provoked an outpouring of letters to the editor from Indians and others supporting Churchill, including one signed by the entirety of the Elders and leadership Councils of Colorado AIM. 50 Both Churchill and Glenn Morris, another Bellecourt target, offered to resign their positions as codirectors of the chapter if the membership felt the publicity blitz was detrimental to Indian interests or were in any way uncomfortable about either of their identities. They unanimously reaffirmed both men’s leadership. 51
Enrollment in a federally-recognized tribe is the point the Bellecourts, Standing Elk and others most fuss about. Their animus against Churchill outweighs any consideration of whether they should support a criterion consisting of certification from a non-Indian government æ the United States æ involving bureaucratic extinction of indigenous peoples, like the Abenaki of Vermont. Instead, NAIMI insists that maintaining “tribal rolls” based upon criteria set by a non-Indian government is an important aspect of native self-determination. To be a “real” Indian, you must be enrolled. The procedure essentially deeds to the US government the privilege of determining who is or is not an Indian. There is a certain perverse logic to this argument in the baleful light of the assimilationist nature of US Indian policy since as early as 1880. 52 But the Bellecourts’ application of the rule is anything but consistent. For instance, they never suggest that imprisoned Chippewa/Sioux activist Leonard Peltier is not an Indian because he remains unenrolled, or denounce former AIM national spokesperson John Trudell, an unenrolled Santee, as an “impostor.” Their behavior exempts IITC’s Antonio Gonzales, a self-identified Seri, and Andrea Carmen, who claims to be a Yaqui. 53 Hogwash washes both sides of the hog.
Yet in Churchill’s case, federal certification isn’t enough. Instead, the Bellecourts first trotted out David Cornsilk, a supposed “genealogist for the Cherokee Nation” to question Churchill’s ancestry before the council of the Tahlequah, Oklahoma-based United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees (in which his roll number is R7627). The Keetoowah Band’s refusal to impugn Churchill’s status laid them open to bitter sniping. 54 Cherokee Nation officials emphatically deny ever having employed Cornsilk as a genealogist. 55 “David never had access to the material he’d need to form a legitimate opinion on Churchill’s genealogy,” says Cherokee artist Murv Jacobs. “He’s just a guy who doesn’t like Ward Churchill. As to the Bellecourt brothers, I wasn’t aware that Chippewas had standing to decide who is and isn’t Cherokee. Cherokee rolls are Cherokee business and nobody else’s.” 56
The Keetoowah Band have their own genealogists. According to Band Chief John Ross, “When Ward applied for enrollment, and it should be pointed out that we invited him to do so, he had to provide documentation just like anybody else. We checked it out. He’s who he says he is. End of story.” 57 The punchline is that the Keetoowahs formally verified that Churchill is “at least 3/16 Cherokee Indian by blood.” This quantum accrues strictly from his lineage through his mother. “I was asked if I wanted to try to document my father’s [Creek] side of things,” Churchill recalls, “because he was at least as much Indian as Mom. But he’s dead now. I never knew him, and I don’t know my relatives on that side. So I just let it go. I make the reference in my self-identification out of respect, but I’ve never claimed the quantum because I don’t believe in [quantum]. To me, it’s no different whether I’m 3/16 or 3/8. You don’t measure identity by either pounds or percentage points unless you’re some kind of Nazi.” 58
The Bellecourts support blood quantum when it comes to Churchill, but not apparently when it comes to themselves. According to Joe Geshick writing for the Ojibwe News (published in the heart of Bellecourt “territory”), tribal records reveal that the brothers themselves are “essentially Frenchmen, possessing only 1/32 degree of Indian blood,” information that never finds its way into News From Indian Country. 59 Despite Chief Ross and others’ repeated corrections of his intentional error, Paul DeMain continues to refer to Churchill as an “honorary Keetoowah, like Bill Clinton,” editorially overriding the band’s own determination as to his status. 60 The blood quantum criterion, as historically tainted as tribal enrollment, is the pseudoscientific negative of the kind of racist thinking that created the one drop rule whereby one drop of negro blood makes you a negro. Blood quantum erases indigenous people by making Indians technically not Indian. Bellecourt-style identity policing, ignoring logic, history, and his movement’s supposed ends, does anything but reinforce native sovereignty. 61
It was such historical and political considerations that led Churchill to oppose the Act for the Protection of Indian Arts and Crafts in 1990. This act made it a federal crime for an artist to identify as an Indian without the official sanction of the government, that is, tribal enrollment. 62 At this point, Federal lobbyist Suzan Shown Harjo, who actively promoted the bill by arguing that it should cover not just visual artists but writers, scholars, educators and many others, joined the anti-Churchill bandwagon. 63 Another voice in the chorus was that of David Bradley, an artist from Santa Fe and leader of the law’s cheering section. Churchill had openly accused him of selling out the unenrolled, by trying to boost his own sales at the expense of other native painters with a “blatantly racist restraint of trade measure” involving a “direct usurpation of indigenous rights by federal authorities.” 64 Eventually, Paul DeMain, who claims to have conducted a “two-year investigation” into Churchill’s family tree without being able “to confirm a single Indian relative, let alone one real relative who can vouch for his tribal descent,” added his voice to the babble. 65
The Bellecourts frequently cite an “investigation” of Churchill by the University of Colorado. Operating on the racist assumption that Churchill’s “Indianness” specially qualified him to teach subjects related to Indians and that such an assumption influenced his university’s hiring him, Vernon Bellecourt made an appointment with University President Judith Albino in October 1993 to accuse Ward of ethnic fraud and misuse of public resources.” 66 President Albino then received an information packet from Carole Standing Elk and a letter from Suzan Shown Harjo expressing concern for the “safety of students” in Churchill’s classes. 67
The fraud charge was dismissed on its face, as Bellecourt was informed in writing a month later. 68 As required by state law, the University responded to the allegation of misappropriation with an audit. Ward was fully exonerated: “It became painfully obvious that Mr. Bellecourt’s accusations were completely gratuitous and intended as harassment,” says Dr. Evelyn Hu-DeHart, director of the Department of Ethnic Studies where Churchill is a professor. 69 Harjo’s claims that Churchill’s students were victims of “physical intimidation” could be dismissed even more readily. Anonymous student evaluations of Churchill’s classroom performance rate him at the A level not only for the semester of Harjo’s complaint, but for every semester, his cumulative teaching evaluations ranking in the top five percent of all Boulder faculty. Ironically, while under attack from these quarters, Churchill received the 1994 Teaching Excellence Award from the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, one in a long string of teaching recognitions. 70 “We concluded that Ward Churchill is one of our more productive and distinguished faculty members,” says Dean of Arts and Sciences Charles Middleton. 71 Standing Elk, Harjo and Bellecourt were all duly informed of this outcome more than two years ago, yet NAIMI continues to present this “investigation” as ongoing, never mentioning that it occurred solely through their own instigation.
“He’s not AIM!”
Other charges reflect on Churchill’s status as an activist for Native American interests. High honor is due those first AIM warriors who risked their lives to create the movement’s great initial impact on native peoples’ liberatory struggles. The talkers, however, treat presence in AIM’s earliest days as a kind of Teflon coating protecting their reputations from any subsequent dishonorable actions. By the same token, they use accusations against those they claim to have falsely implied presence in the glory days as a shaming and powerful blow at the target’s credibility. These tactics are not surprising coming from those who take the talk but steer clear of the issues. Thus, News from Indian Country editor Paul DeMain’s fable that Churchill is only a recent arrival on the AIM scene who has “invented a history for himself” is supposed to be a powerful blow at Churchill’s credibility. DeMain’s musings do not survive minimal scrutiny, however. Friends from Churchill’s 1973-1974 college days recall his being actively involved in AIM even then. 72 Atlanta AIM leader Aaron Two Elk, formerly of Denver, confirms Churchill was part of the Colorado chapter “at least as early as 1978 or 79.” 73 Russell Means recounts Churchill’s participation in AIM’s Yellow Thunder Camp occupation, beginning in 1981. 74 Winona LaDuke remembers that he was a “fully engaged AIMster, part of the Means crew” when she first met him in 1982. 75 As Bob Robideau sums up: “I’ve worked with Ward Churchill for years. He’s always been AIM. If he’s a cop, then I’m the tooth fairy and we’re all about to have an encounter with the Wizard of Oz.” 76
Interesting in light of his “recent arrival” hypotheses, DeMain has elsewhere insinuated that Churchill was the “orchestrator” of the Oglala firefight 1975. Thus, by implication DeMain implies that Churchill is responsible for the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier. To that, Peltier’s cousin and codefendant Bob Robideau gives a humorless chuckle. “Gimme a break,” he says. “No offense to Ward, but that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all year. It’s insulting and degrading to those of us who were involved, including Leonard. What we did was an act of self-determination, but Paul DeMain tries to make it sound like we were just manipulated by some white FBI infiltrator.” 77 Peltier’s answer to Churchill playing any sort of behind-the-scenes role at Oglala was a succinct and immediate “Bullshit.” 78
Mining the same vein are the charges of Churchill’s reputed “expulsions” from other native activist organizations, such as the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC), the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), and AIM. Leonard Peltier Defense Committee “expulsion.” In 1994, Churchill received a letter from Leonard Peltier asking Churchill to either “disassociate” himself from Dark Night field notes or resign as Peltier’s four-year national spokesperson. Dark Night field notes, although based in Chicago, originated as a project of those involved in Leonard Peltier Support Groups throughout the midwest region. Those on its board viewed it as a critical tool for publicizing Peltier’s plight within the larger context of the struggle for human liberation. Peltier and his Lawrence, Kansas Defense Committee had a problem with an article in the first issue of Dark Night field notes that addressed specific tactics used by Dennis Banks’ Walk for Justice for Leonard Peltier. Apparently, the journal’s identification of someone whom Peltier had deeply respected cashing in on his name, usurping the authority of his own defense committee and diverting funds (“Free Leonard! Make your checks payable to the Dennis Banks Fund”) was too painful for Peltier to credit.
A primary objection raised was the old bugbear that such attempts to clean house in public are themselves divisive. Left unaddressed were the questions of whether or not such “divisiveness” is less destructive than letting such issues fester, or how Peltier would be served by this. 79 International Indian Treaty Council “expulsion.” Churchill’s accusers fall over their own assertion that Churchill is not a longstanding AIM member in their own September 23, 1986 IITC “expulsion” letter, a Bellecourt disinformation packet document. Since Churchill’s original membership in “AIM’s international diplomatic arm” would have entailed his being regarded as an AIM member, their own document implies that at least some of the current NAIMI race-baiters considered him an Indian over ten years ago, and that they had for some time. 80 Denver, Colorado AIM leader Glenn Morris, fellow recipient of the letter, says “Both Ward and I had already separated ourselves from IITC because we disagreed with the organization’s position on Nicaragua. That was in 1985. A year later, we get letters ‘expelling’ us from something we weren’t even part of.” 81
“Expulsion” from AIM.
The logic chasm widens when seven years later, on November 24, 1993, Churchill and Morris received what might be called preemptive expulsions from NAIMI, an organization to which they had never belonged in the first place and in fact had openly opposed. 82 The expulsion took the form of letters whose length indicated that the intended audience was not so much Churchill and Morris as those to whom copies would be sent for their disinformation. 83 “It would be just as valid for the Republican National Committee to write a letter expelling Bill Clinton and Al Gore,” commented Churchill, “or for my Peruvian citizenship to be revoked. I think it’s kind of fundamental that you first have to be part of something before you can be thrown out of it.” 84 This goes well beyond the revisionist impulse that drives people to fire someone after they quit because reality was not so psychologically accommodating. But NAIMI’s false implication that Churchill had once belonged to NAIMI, if believed, would allow them to dismiss anything he might say against it as so much sour grapes. As Aaron Two Elk observes, “This is the kind of thing Vernon Bellecourt has been doing for the last twenty years. He’s always lied and manipulated things for his own purposes. Some of us old-timers should have dealt with him long ago, but we didn’t. Now, maybe it’s too late.” 85
Portrait of a Movement Fractured
By now it is clear that the Bellecourts’ and others’ persecution of Churchill is driven by a powerful animus. Few people inside the movement(s) or outside have enough pieces of the picture to immediately perceive much more than that there are two sides here, and there is a strong natural tendency to let already existing personal sympathies and connections determine which side people will sympathize with. It is the nature of the kind of disinformation tactics that the Bellecourts are using, that few will make the admittedly difficult effort to pull together the scattered information that supplies the answer to what drives them. However, the Bellecourts own behavior did drive a segment of the native community to make that effort in a formal tribunal. The understandable desire to avoid the appearance of a house divided against itself led those investigators to confine their findings within the native community. Unfortunately, this internal housecleaning has hardly put a dent in the Bellecourt’s activities or the public’s susceptibility to their tactics. Only a more open viewing of NAIMI and the Bellecourts can reveal the utterly disingenuous motives of the primary instigators of the campaign against Churchill, and the disservice it does to all who are engaged in the struggle for human liberation.
National AIM Inc. (NAIMI)
First, NAIMI is neither national nor a movement. It is a corporation chartered in 1993 under the laws of the State of Minnesota. The signatory on the application’s cover page is Vernon Bellecourt and the registered office his house. 86 The text is a photocopy of a long-rescinded 70s generic incorporation document. The home addresses listed for the incorporators are all fifteen or more years out of date. 87 The same is true of the supposed Board of Directors, which includes people like John Trudell who insists that he was never consulted on the matter, was unaware that his name was used in any capacity, and that he wants nothing at all to do with the organization. 88 The Board’s main function is to name a three-to-seven person “Central Committee” which, in turn, sets policy and designates NAIMI’s “state directors.” 89
The various chapters NAIMI claims around the country are hardly more than shells. So far as can be determined, Michael Haney is its sole Oklahoma representative. 90 In Kansas City, Bellecourt cousin Michael Pierce is another chapter, as Pierce’s brother Tom is in Kentucky. 91 In the Bay Area, Carole Standing Elk can boast perhaps a half-dozen adherents, as can Fern Matthias in Los Angeles. 92 In Portland, Oregon the number stands at about five. 93 There are supposedly two chapters in Ohio, one in Toledo which seems to be a woman named Joyce Mulhaney and two others, the other headed by Kenny Irwin in Columbus. 94 Mulhaney is principally known as a Northern Ohio powwow circuit trader who occasionally writes letters seeking to establish herself as an authority on Ohio native burial rights issues. The Columbus group, quite active in burial rights and sacred sites issues prior to its adherence to the Minnesota “home office,” now confines its leadership to convoking powwows and seeking paid speaking engagements for its leadership. Even in Minneapolis, the National Office can show only about fifteen adults in its “AIM patrol,” all of them paid. 95
Each of the “chapters” reportedly receives a monthly subsidy to maintain a telephone, letterhead stationery and an “office” (often a postal drop), 96 but some have suggested that the remote chapters actually pay monthly tribute to support the Minneapolis “leadership.” Based on these figures, by 1997 the organization had about fifty regular members/employees nationwide. At most, there are a hundred.
According to its 1993 corporate report and several puff pieces in the Minneapolis press, NAIMI handled approximately $4 million in federal funding and received about $3.3 million from Fortune 500 contributors like Honeywell. An additional half-million came in from individual donations, contributions from church groups and merchandise sales. 97 With such a cashflow, it is not surprising to find Vernon driving Cadillacs and sporting $2,500 fringed and beaded leather jackets. 98 Clyde drives a similar car adorned with a custom license plate reading “AIM-ONE.” He has been seen flashing a roll of bills and dropping hundreds of dollars at a time at blackjack tables in several Minneapolis-range casinos. 99 Although both promote themselves as followers of the Midewiwin spiritual way and Clyde is a Sundancer, they also both have reputations as substance abusers in contradiction of the principles and lifestyle of both these traditions. 100
Aside from the Bellecourts’ personal consumption, NAIMI’s ample funds appear to be devoted to maintaining three Minneapolis-based main projects: the Heart of the Earth Survival School, The Red Earth Housing Project, and the American Indian Opportunity Industrialization Center, a job training program. 101 Although Churchill acknowledges there’s nothing wrong with alternative schools, housing for urban Indians and job training for the unemployed, he finds them wide of AIM’s mission. “That’s all well and good,” he says, “but AIM is supposed to be a national liberation movement, not a social service agency. Suffice it to say that neither the government nor the Honeywell Corporation is in the business of underwriting national liberation movements. Beyond that, I’m not even sure that channeling 17,000 Indians onto the assembly lines of major defense contractors qualifies as a good thing in the end.” 102 Russell Means concurs:
It’s been a firm principle of the American Indian Movement since day one that we never accept federal funds to run our programs. The feds never give something for nothing. There’s always a trade-off, a quid pro quo. “We’ll continue your funding next year, but only if you do this and that for us.” The same with the corporations. You end up coopted, working for the government and big business instead of trying to break their power over your people, right? Well, Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt are obviously in that bag, working for the feds. That’s where their money comes from. The only question is, since neither of them actually holds down a job in these projects they’ve got, what is it they’ve agreed to do in order to keep the money rolling in? 103
The answer, Means thinks, may be fairly straightforward: their job is to ensure that AIM as a viable national liberation movement disappears once and for all.
The Confederation of Autonomous AIM Chapters (autonomous AIM)
Object of intense sustained federal repression during the 1970s, AIM was largely dormant during the 1980s, apart from a few sparks of life like Yellow Thunder Camp and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. Around 1990 in anticipation of the 1992 Quincentennary, however, there were signs of revitalization. This was perhaps most true in Denver, a chapter cofounded by Vernon Bellecourt and Joe Locust (Cherokee) in 1970 but abandoned by Bellecourt in 1972. 104 There, Churchill and Morris, who had been drafted by Locust and others to direct a rebuilding of the almost extinct chapter in 1983, had attained an active membership of over a hundred by the end of the decade. Moreover, they were busy crafting a “rainbow coalition” of area groups -53 participating organizations by 1992 -which was beginning to demonstrate real power within the Rocky Mountain region. 105
In the Bay Area, Bobby Castillo and AIM veteran George Martin successfully pursued the same strategy, filling a vacuum as old as 1980 or earlier. New or Òreborn” chapters surfaced steadily in the Crow Reservation in Montana, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Corpus Christi (Texas), the Pacific Northwest, Illinois, the Southern Ute Reservation, Albuquerque, northern Florida, eastern Oklahoma and Virginia. 106 Added to the existing chapters in Colorado and the Dakotas and potential chapters like Minnesota, these groups offered the prospect of a resurgent AIM æ again a force in U.S. opposition politics for the 1990s. This likelihood was further enhanced by overtures for a linkup from the Mohawk Warriors Society in upstate New York and southern Quebec, and Canadian native rights organizations. 107 Colorado AIM first truly flexed its muscles in 1992, putting several thousand people into the streets of Denver, making it the only city in the country where a major celebration of the Columbian Quincentennary was prevented. 108 However, soon thereafter things began to move quickly in another direction. Within weeks, Vernon Bellecourt, who spent the Quincentennary accumulating a sizable speaker’s fee in Ohio, openly launched his intensive campaign to discredit Churchill and Morris. The same phenomenon materialized in the Bay Area, where Castillo and Martin’s chapter had also organized large counterdemonstrations on Columbus Day. Carole Standing Elk, who by her own admission had not been politically active in a dozen years, was suddenly anointed in the press as “legitimate head of AIM in northern California,” using this new position to publicly and repeatedly denounce Castillo as a “fraud” and a “Mexican taco.” 109
Soon thereafter, the Bellecourt-run NAIMI was incorporated and, to quote Churchill, unilaterally “began expelling the movement from itself.” This is no overstatement. One of the first acts of NAIMI was a September 1993 press circular asserting that
…only those chapters which have been duly authorized and chartered by the National Office should be recognized in the future as legitimate representatives of the American Indian Movement. Questions in this regard can be resolved by calling the National Office at 1-612-721-3914. [Vernon Bellecourt’s home phone number] 110
Further attempts to undermine the autonomous chapters sprang up, especially in Colorado. On October 1993, one year after Colorado AIM’s spectacular Columbus Day victory, Vernon Bellecourt flew into Denver, and conducted a surprise press conference on the steps of the state capitol building. He told startled and undoubtedly delighted mainstream reporters that the highly visible Glenn Morris and Ward Churchill had been expelled from AIM, and introduced three unknown individuals–Al Bear Ribs, Al “Fast Thunder” Schumacher and “Cahuilla Red Elk” (Margaret Martinez) -as the “new leadership of Colorado AIM.” 111 With Red Elk/Martinez tagging along, Vernon then met with University President Albino to try having Churchill and Morris fired from their jobs (no investigation of Morris was ever initiated). His mission of disruption thus accomplished, Vernon jetted off, and continues to market the local media “controversy” he manufactured about Morris and Churchill to this day. 112
The “legitimate AIM leadership” Bellecourt’s appointees gave Denver could have been created by the Marx Brothers. Bear Ribs, having just completed a prison sentence for beating another man to death in a bar, left Colorado less than three months later, fleeing an arrest warrant for domestic violence. 113 Schumacher sank from view at about the same time, after a public speech in which he informed his audience that “The main threat we must prepare to meet is an invasion from outer space.” 114 Martinez/Red Elk was last heard from in mid-1995, working for an upscale Colorado Springs developer who wished to build condominiums in the Garden of the Gods State Park, a site sacred to native people. 115 As Glenn Morris put it:
Vernon didn’t manage to destroy Colorado AIM. Far from it. We’re very much alive. But what he did manage to do, and is still trying to do, is create a considerable amount of confusion. He gave a lot of ammunition to anti-AIM and anti-Indian sentiment in this already anti-Indian state, and his “appointees” made the movement a laughingstock in some circles. We came out of Columbus Day ’92 with a lot of momentum. It’s fair to say that he slowed that momentum a lot, and that damaged morale among our members. After all the work we put in building this chapter, he put us in the position of having to rebuild again. Now, you tell me. Who was the primary beneficiary of his “contribution” here? It’s not Indians, and it’s not the American Indian Movement. 116
Responding to NAIMI’s establishment and its disruptive disinformation offensive, sixty representatives of nineteen functioning AIM chapters assembled at Edgewood, New Mexico in December 1993. Together, they issued the Edgewood Declaration, defining themselves as a Confederation of Autonomous Chapters of the American Indian Movement and repudiating any authority claimed by the Bellecourts’ national office outside the Minneapolis area. 117 “We didn’t start anything new at Edgewood,” says Russell Means. “All we did was reaffirm the principles which governed AIM all along, especially the 1975 decision by the whole membership to dissolve the national office and dispense with national officers. Each chapter functions in a mutually-supportive, but locally directed and entirely autonomous manner. There’s only one valid way the 1975 decision can ever be reversed, and that’s through the convening of a national meeting of all active AIM members in which they consent to setting up a national office again. Such a meeting has never happened.” 118
The AIM Tribunal
Contrary to what the Bellecourts would like people to believe, it was they who were “banished for life from AIM,” not Churchill and Morris. 119 This came about when a group of noted senior native activists, desperate to put an end to the swirling charges and countercharges which they saw impairing the struggle for indigenous rights, opted to establish a Òmovement tribunal” to assess the merits of what was being said.
“It was a really difficult situation,” says former Bellecourt colleague Joe Locust, who chaired the panel. “I felt that Clyde and Vernon were way out of line, but I frankly didn’t believe some of the things the people on the other side were saying about them. As an elder in the movement who’s known and worked with most all of the parties involved, I decided it was my responsibility to try and clear the air.” Locust’s council, convened in March 1994 at San Raphael, California, consisted of a Wounded Knee veteran, Regina Brave; a former IITC delegate and attorney for the Treaty 6 Chiefs in Canada, Sharon Venne; a former Leonard Peltier Defense Committee staffer and Northwest AIM elder, Dian Million; and noted native scholar, Donald A. Grinde, Jr.
“I told people it was time to put up or shut up,” Locust recalls. “If they had a case, then make it before the tribunal, not in the media. If there was a basis to their charges, we’d uphold them and take appropriate action. If, on the other hand, they couldn’t prove what they were saying, they were to stop saying it. That was the deal.” Locust found the autonomous AIM chapters “very receptive” to the idea. “They were cooperative,” he says. “Russ Means agreed to present their case, and they made a group pledge to stand down on any point they couldn’t prove.” 120
The Bellecourts were another story, however. “Vernon flatly refused to participate under any circumstances,” Locust says, “and Clyde showed up only long enough to provoke a big confrontation by insisting that we use his pipe in the opening ceremony. The fact that what he was doing was a desecration of the pipe we’d already loaded for that purpose didn’t phase him in the least. It was obvious he’d come just to disrupt, not to engage in anything constructive. It was a real eye-opener for me.” 121 So was the testimony and other evidence submitted over the next two days, material so extensive and compelling that the panel unanimously entered an “interim finding” banishing the Bellecourts’ and scheduling a second set of hearings in Minneapolis the following October (the hearings were ultimately moved to Rapid City, South Dakota). 122
Although all this happened over three years ago, the results seemed to have evaporated because of the tribunal’s decision at the proceedings’ outset to bar non-Indian press. 123 “Our idea, based on a lot of experience, was that Indian against Indian disputes invariably get distorted to the advantage of nonIndians by the media,” says Joe Locust. “So we decided that reportage should come through Indian papers only.” 124 This seemed a viable approach when News From Indian Country assigned reporter Shelly Davis, a Cherokee, to cover the tribunal firsthand, from start to finish. (Joe Geshick, an Ojibwe News reporter, also attended throughout, but since he was also a witness, his reportage was discounted.)
Davis undertook to write a series of articles on what she learned, but was shortly made aware that her editor, Paul DeMain, considered them “biased.” She recalls,
It was really weird. I’d quote Vernon Bellecourt, and that was okay. But every time I’d quote somebody from the other side, or cite some of the evidence presented, I’d start getting questions about my “personal relationships.” Finally, I said, “Paul, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m going to cover both sides of this thing or I’m not going to cover it at all.” He said, “Fine. I’ll cover it myself,” and he hadn’t even been there. About a week later, he fired me for lacking “objectivity and professionalism.” What a joke. 125
Shortly after her termination, Davis received a Native American Press Association award for the quality of the very articles DeMain found so objectionable.
Apart from letters to the editor, neatly flanked by DeMain commentary, from then on only the NAIMI version of reality appeared in News From Indian Country. The content and conclusions of the tribunal were frozen out, while an unending stream of editorials and “news reports” pilloried Churchill and others, none of whom were ever so much as contacted for a comment. 126 “It was a rather astonishing turn of events,” says Don Grinde. “We didn’t expect a rubber stamp of our findings, but we did expect a thorough and fair reporting of them. In the end, we’d have done better to have turned things over to the mainstream media.” 127
Exactly what prompted DeMain to pursue this course is unclear since he has no known history of connection with the Bellecourts. Churchill suspects a payoff. “I don’t know Paul DeMain at all,” he says, but I do know he’s been running pretty much on a shoestring operation. At the same time, there’s a lot of loose cash kicking around in Vernon’s coffers. He’d pay a nice price to turn a publication which was in the process of exposing him into what amounts to a personal propaganda vehicle. You put two and two together and what you end up with is some money changing hands. Likely, it was just chump change, but enough to account for DeMain’s sleazy behavior since mid ’94. It’s too bad, really. News From Indian Country used to be a pretty good paper. Now, I’d have to rate its editorial integrity as being lower than that of Spotlight or the National Inquirer.” 128
The Bellecourts. So, what was it that so stunned Joe Locust and his colleagues during the tribunal, and put Paul DeMain in such a frenzy of denial? The tribunal turned up many things sufficiently repellent to create such a strong response, but the sheer cumulative weight of the autonomous AIM chapters’ evidence sketching the careers of both Bellecourts over the past quarter-century was itself condemning. Some forty witnesses, hundreds of pages of documentation and videotaped depositions from as far afield as Nicaragua were entered into the record. Although Means withdrew several charges for insufficient evidence and the panel dismissed two for lack of support, what follows is a summary of what was proven to the tribunal’s collective satisfaction.
While it is true that Clyde Bellecourt was a member of the founding AIM group in Minneapolis in 1968, the same cannot be said of his older brother, Vernon. A Denver wig stylist moonlighting as an insurance salesman, Vernon sat out the opening years of the movement. It was only after AIM had taken root that he traded in his leisure suits for ribbon shirts and started growing braids. “Vernon saw a parade,” as one witness aptly put it,” and decided to jump in front.” 129 The sharp divisiveness preventing the movement from ever consolidating its impressive early gains can be reasonably dated from the moment of his entry into its ranks.
In 1972, little more than a year after the Denver chapter was formed, Vernon presented himself for election as an AIM officer. After losing the election to Russell Means at the annual membership meeting, Vernon swiftly organized a “protest bloc.” He then persuaded intermediaries to propose to Means that he abdicate in favor of Vernon in the interests of unity. Means refused and tension increased until Clyde and AIM-founder Dennis Banks engineered the creation of a new appointed position for Vernon to fill. He was duly appointed to this job, the only national title he would ever hold. Vernon then walked away from the Denver chapter, stationing himself at the movement’s national office in Minneapolis. 130
This pattern enlarged itself in 1974 when Vernon decided it was time for him to become AIM’s national chairperson. Once again, the membership had other ideas, electing Carter Camp, a Ponca from Oklahoma, to the top job. Vernon started a whispering campaign to the effect that Camp was, among other things, “a government infiltrator,” a charge familiar to us only from hindsight. He incidentally added to an antagonism so incendiary it resulted in bloodshed. 131
At its 1975 meeting, partly to stem the rising factionalism, the membership voted to abolish all titles of national office (except “national spokesperson,” a title held by John Trudell until it, too, was discarded in 1979.) The decision not to have a national office or officers was reaffirmed at an “AIM Summit” conducted in San Francisco in September 1982. 132
Unfortunately, this did not end Vernon’s badjacketing of rivals. During the same 1975 meeting at which the national office was dissolved, he seized the opportunity to start a rumor that Micmac activist Anna Mae Aquash, one of his severest critics, was an FBI informer. He instructed an AIM security team consisting of Leonard Peltier, Dino Butler and Bob Robideau to take her out to interrogate her. According to Robideau, the order was to “bury her where she stands” if they were unsatisfied with her responses. 133 While Robideau does not contend that Vernon himself pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Aquash a few months later, he points out that the resulting suspicion and isolation within the movement Vernon’s snitch rumor created made Aquash especially vulnerable to her fate. Perhaps to prevent others from coming to the same conclusion, Vernon volunteered to head up AIM’s internal investigation of the murder. Interestingly, the “investigation was terminated” soon after. 134
What had increasingly upset Aquash and many others was Vernon’s growing and pronounced disruption, profiteering and misrepresentation. For instance, although holding no elected office even at chapter level, Vernon consistently portrayed himself as a “foremost AIM leader,” insinuating that he was a “veteran” of the spectacular federal siege of AIM members at Wounded Knee in 1973, a misrepresentation he still cultivates. 135 Vernon was not at Wounded Knee. During much of that confrontation he was touring Italy “raising funds.” On his return, he claimed to have been arrested by federal agents at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and forced to post the $17,000 in proceeds as bond. 136 It is on record that Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH posted the bond at Vernon’s request, and that the funds were returned to them when Vernon wasn’t prosecuted. The Italian donations, however, were never turned over to the movement. 137
Similar monetary wrongdoing rears its ugly head before and after Wounded Knee. For instance, at the end the November 1972 AIM occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington, DC, the Nixon administration provided $66,650 in cash to underwrite the dissidents’ travel home. The money was supposed to be divided up in proportion to the actual transport costs involved. 138 However, according to Robert Free, the AIM member assigned to oversee disbursements, Vernon demanded $30,000 and actually received more than $7,000 “for the National Office.” 139 Consequently, many grassroots participants received nothing at all. Similarly, during the so-called “Wounded Knee Leadership Trials” of 1974-1975, more than $100,000 in defense funds disappeared from accounts to which only Vernon and his cohort, Mike Haney, had access. 140
The IITC. Hammered to pieces as a direct result of federal repression, AIM was in a state of virtual collapse by the early 80s, fraught with incessant internal discord. 141 The Bellecourts were the only AIM “notables” never tried and imprisoned during the period. It was at this point that Vernon announced the reestablishment of the formerly-dissolved National Office and proclaimed Clyde executive director. Whatever his younger brother was doing at the time, Vernon used his new station to assert control over the movement’s single untarnished operation, the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC). Labeling Cherokee activist Jimmie Durham, IITC’s highly effective founding director, a “white man masquerading as an Indian,” Vernon soon accomplished his objective. 142
IITC was established in 1974 at the behest of the Lakota elders to represent indigenous interests vis-à-vis nation-states before the United Nations. Under Durham’s direction it had succeeded in solid fashion. By 1981, however, the Bellecourts turned IITC completely around as they visited native communities on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast, an area where indigenous resistance to state domination was rapidly building. 143 As “cousins and allies from the north,” the Bellecourts were introduced to local Indian military leaders at the village of Tasbapauni, shown defensive emplacements, weapons caches and so forth. They left, promising they would soon return. What came instead were detachments of Nicaraguan troops who systematically rounded up or killed key leaders, impounded weapons and destroyed exactly those positions the brothers had been shown. Convinced they had been betrayed to the government, the Atlantic Coast Indians issued death warrants against both Bellecourts should they ever come back. IITC was permanently banned from their territory. 144
While IITC’s relationship to indigenous peoples was steadily deteriorating, its new cast of “leaders” found plenty of time to hang out with Sandinista officials in Managua and Geneva, as well as leftist or simply antiAmerican governments from the USSR and Cuba to Libya and Iran. 145 By 1984, Vernon was taking his slide show on the lucrative college lecture circuit touting the “indigenous rights” posture of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government and glamorizing the relocation centers into which the government had forced much of Nicaragua’s indigenous population. Rapt audiences listened to him explain how the Sandinista revolution’s success was more important to Indian rights than the Indians themselves. 146 In his talks and interviews, Vernon habitually described the native resistance, especially MISURASATA, Nicaragua’s equivalent of AIM, as a “CIA-funded contra organization.” 147
While the Sandinistas tried to rebut these reports in the pages of Barricada and other journals, Vernon’s deliberately simplistic and decidedly anti-Indian “good guys, bad guys” presentations were especially well-received and well-compensated by numerous left organizations and “progressives” eager to romanticize someone else’s revolution rather than make their own. 148 Almost overnight Vernon became a countercultural celebrity. He had no demonstrable constituent base of his own, yet his picture was emblazoned on the front page of the Socialist Workers Party publication, The Militant, captioned as the “representative Native American radical” of the 80s. 149 For several years, the Bellecourts’ perspective on Nicaragua was the only “indigenous” view that saw print in The Guardian, the American left’s premier “independent radical news weekly,” coverage that translated into more lecture invitations and larger honoraria. 150
The only problem was that most radical Indians, in or out of AIM, strongly disagreed with the Bellecourts’ message. When Russell Means announced that “the business of the American Indian Movement is supporting Indian self-determination, not the governments that seek to prevent it,” Vernon quickly drafted a press release in the name of the “Central Governing Council of the American Indian Movement” claiming that Means “does not represent” AIM. 151 A few months later, an expulsion was issued on AIM letterhead and both brothers announced at a press conference that they had “totally expelled [Russell Means] from the American Indian Movement.”(emphasis added) 152
Vernon smeared Means and dozens of others – from Akwesasne Notes editors John Mohawk and Mike Meyers to Clem Chartier, a leader of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples; from Jim Anaya of the National Indian Youth Council to Tim Coulter, director of the Indian Law Resource Center; from Morris and Churchill to Hank Adams, head of American Indian Survival, Inc. – as “either a CIA puppet or an outright operative.” 153 He used phone calls, faxes and “information packets” in a concerted nationwide campaign similar to that now being run against Churchill to prevent Means from being invited to speak at college campuses and political events. 154 Similarly, San Francisco-based “indigenous diplomat” and former IITC director Antonio Gonzales has nearly made a career of insinuating that Churchill – and dozens of others – are “CIA operatives” because of their support of Nicaragua’s native peoples against Sandinista assimilation policies in the 1980s. 155
AIM’s internal fragmentation and external isolation increasing radically in 1986, Colorado AIM agreed to host a meeting in Denver to allow Dennis Banks to bring the principles together in a verbal “cease fire.” The Bellecourts boycotted the event. 156 A few months later, Dennis Banks tried again, this time asking those concerned to meet at Oglala on Pine Ridge. While Clyde and an IITC representative showed, Vernon again refused. Instead, he used the absence of Morris, Churchill and Locust from Denver as an opportunity to deliver a speech sponsored by the local CISPES, Socialist Workers Party and New Alliance Party chapters. There, and in other radio interviews, he denounced Colorado AIM’s support of Means and MISURASATA as being “counterrevolutionary,” “CIA-inspired” and “possibly controlled by the U.S. government.” 157
The elders who had created IITC had had enough. Not only was the organization functioning politically very differently than originally intended, but rumors abounded that it was used for cocaine importation. 158 When Vernon tried to stage a symbolic coup at the organization’s annual meeting, removing Russell Means from the position of permanent trustee the traditionals had appointed him to in 1974, the old people refused. 159 Just like the “expulsions” of Churchill and Morris, this move by Vernon was a moot point since all three had long since left the IITC. Within months, the IITC had dispensed with grassroots oversight by incorporating itself in California, replacing the elders with a handpicked “advisory board.” 160 Since then, it has lost whatever standing it once possessed to represent indigenous peoples, and has become a funding conduit and employment haven for those aligned with the Bellecourts.
While rumors of IITC involvement in narcotic trafficking were never investigated, a possible source for the fire behind the smoke came with Clyde Bellecourt’s 1987 arrest for nine counts of peddling drugs to the children living in Minneapolis AIM’s Red Earth Housing Project. Outside the courtroom, Clyde cried entrapment, while behind closed doors his attorneys quietly negotiated a plea bargain situating him in a federal prison from which he was released less than two years later, amazingly short time for a dealer sentenced during Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs. 161 Several tribunal witnesses and the Ojibwe News attested that after his release, he not only resumed the activities which caused his arrest, but branched out into other criminal enterprises, all while billing himself as “Executive Director of the American Indian Movement.” 162
Other Fronts. While Clyde was in prison, and the Sandinistas were collapsing, Vernon was pursuing other income possibilities. The first was to trade on his “famous AIM leader” image by endorsing the 1987-88 presidential campaign of the purported “left alternative” candidate Dr. Lenora Fulani, an African-American. 163 However, disturbing information soon surfaced in a series of articles by investigative journalist Ken Lawrence in the Jackson Advocate, Mississippi’s oldest black-owned newspaper and a mainstay of progressive organizing in the state. Not only was Fulani’s “Rainbow Alliance,” a subsidiary of her “New Alliance Party” (NAP), purposely named to make voters confuse it with Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition (a deception designed to enhance fundraising prospects), but it was controlled by a white man, Dr. Fred Newman, an outspoken admirer of neofascist Lyndon LaRouche. 164
To stem the flow of such information, the NAP filed a libel suit claiming punitive damages steep enough to personally bankrupt Lawrence and publisher Charles Tisdale, as well as put the Advocate out of business 165 At trial, Vernon appeared as the star witness for the NAP, not only swearing that Lawrence’s allegations were false, but suggesting that the reporter himself was a “federal provocateur” trying to derail a “legitimate African-American candidate who happens to hold left-of-center views.” 166 Vernon was making headway with the jury until he admitted under cross examination that he was paid $24,000 a year for various “service” to Fulani’s organization, including his court appearance, thereby lending AIM’s endorsement to her right-wing fraud as a left-wing alternative, without authorization from AIM membership. 167
Vernon’s exposure as a paid witness had no effect on the trial’s outcome because after only one day of defense presentations, the case was dismissed with prejudice. Proceeding on the basis that “the truth is the best defense” against a defamation action, Lawrence quickly established the Fulani/Newman/LaRouche relationship. 168 NAP’s credibility slipped away. But damage was done: Vernon’s maneuverings left strong memories of an “AIM linkage” to the cryptofacist NAP within the African-American community. By this time, however, Vernon found a far greener pasture in Colonel Muammar al Qadaffi’s Libya. 169
In 1988, after having already enjoyed a number of trips to Tripoli as a “guest of the state,” Vernon announced that Qadaffi was preparing to award him a grant of $1 million with which to “pursue the struggle for indigenous liberation in the United States.” 170 None of these trips had anything to do with AIM, but all of them lent credence to government claims that the movement was “associated with international terrorism.” A federal grand jury was convened to determine whether Vernon’s defiance of a U.S. travel prohibition to Libya was a legal violation or a breach of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, among other things. Vernon was jailed briefly for refusing to testify, but suddenly released just as eight members of an Arab students association who had helped arrange his trips went to prison, and the Palestinian manager of the travel agency booking Vernon’s tickets fled American jurisdiction. 171
Even more striking is that Bellecourt was able to accept Qadaffi’s million dollars. Awarded in 1991, Vernon only admits that $250,000 of it was actually handed over. 172 Vernon had stated on several occasions that the cash would be dispersed by a board over which he would preside. Native organizations could submit proposals and, if approved, their projects would be funded. 173 His grip on the moneybag temporarily accorded Bellecourt his long-sought status as principle arbiter of political correctness in Indian Country. However, so far as is known, nobody else ever actually received any of this money. This includes the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, whom Qadaffi was supposed to have personally designated to receive at least $50,000. 174
Amidst the murk of the Bellecourt finances, either Vernon got the money and kept it, or he never had the money at all. 175 In either scenario, he deliberately misrepresented a situation to command the kind of subservience and political fealty he’s always craved, a cynical manipulation and subterfuge typical of his conduct from start to finish, and typical of the dominant culture. It is almost a cliché that the most respected members of Native American communities are the poorest because they give anything that comes to them to those in need, but it has a basis in truth. Vernon’s game with the Libyan money graphically exemplifies the deformation of the indigenous liberation movement’s and opposition politics’s values he has induced for years.
Are the Bellecourts agents provocateurs? The fact that the Bellecourts have long practiced the same disruptive activities for which they’ve so often branded others as government agents and provocateurs does not mean that they themselves are agents provocateurs. It seems simpler and perhaps more frightening than that. They talk the talk sporadically, but they consistently walk the dominant culture walk. Unless and until we have hard evidence to the contrary, we must, as Churchill comments, place a premium “on establishing the sort of knowledge base and analytical skills among activists that would allow the wheat to be sifted from the chaff…” 176
Neither are the Bellecourt brothers interchangeable. Churchill says, comparing Clyde with the late Huey P. Newton, Black Panther Party founder and early influence on AIM:
Clyde, like Huey, is a guy who started out really strong. He was sincere, he believed, he galvanized people. As a result, both organizations made a lot of headway in their initial stages. It follows that a whole lot of new talent comes flooding in. It also follows that there was incredibly heavy repression in both cases: disinformation in the media, infiltration and internal disruption, bogus charges against everybody in sight, people railroaded into prison, assassinations, the whole bit. So, initially as a legitimate self-defense measure, both men started trying to weed out infiltrators. But that pretty quickly became a cover for getting rid of political competitors as well. One wonders who ultimately bad-jacketed the greater number of people, the feds or Huey. Clyde wasn’t as heavyhanded, but then he was always covering for Vernon, who certainly made up for Clyde’s restraint.
Between the repression and the purges, both the Black Panther Party and AIM began to disintegrate. Before long they were no longer politically viable, had become shells of their former selves as demoralization, depression and paranoia set in. Says Churchill, “they retreated into substance abuse and, to subsidize that, they started converting whatever remained of their original creations into a combination social service program and criminal enterprise. By then, totally cynical, they were using their organizational titles, both the Black Panther Party in the case of Huey, and AIM in the case of Clyde, as a cover for what they were really into. To do that, it was necessary to keep right on bad-jacketing competitors, people who were truly pursuing liberation politics. It had become an endless cycle, the exact opposite of what they’d wanted to accomplish.” 177
The Huey/Clyde scenario comes off as something of a tragedy, underscoring the maiming effects of both counterintelligence methods and the politics of hierarchy. The scenario concerning Vernon Bellecourt is something else again. “I’d compare Vernon to Lyndon LaRouche,” Churchill says. “Not LaRouche today in his out-front fascist incarnation, but the way he was back in the early 1970s when he was still pretending to be a leading left-wing radical. Actually, as we now know, that was always a masquerade, a mask he wore in order to conduct a more effective program of disrupting leftist organizations. Very few people seem to remember any more how he dispatched the cadres of his ‘National Council of Labor Caucuses’ to conduct what he called ‘Operation Mop-Up,’ beating up organizers in other groups, breaking up their meetings, publishing all sorts of rubbish about them. This was the outfit Vernon’s sometime patron Fred Newman was still describing as ‘the hegemonic party of the left,’ after LaRouche had dropped all pretenses and announced himself as a fascist.” 178
While the analogy isn’t perfect and Vernon isn’t anywhere near as organizationally adept as LaRouche, Vernon’s methods and motives are similar. “Not that I think ol’ Vern’s a closet fascist,” says Churchill. “As near as I can tell, he’s got insufficient political principle even for that. But LaRouche set out to become a millionaire while he was still playing leftie. So did Vernon. LaRouche succeeded in pumping enough out of his assorted misrepresentations of himself to make it, and I suspect Vernon has, too.” The moral here? Talking the talk doesn’t necessarily mean walking the walk, and failure to look beyond the surface of things often leads to collaboration with those whose actions directly undermine legitimate activists and sometimes entire movements.
Ultimately, the government’s counterintelligence operatives and political scavengers like LaRouche, Newmann and the Bellecourts function in much the same way to similar regrettable effect. Learning to distinguish them must be our first line of defense against both. Continuing to insist on lumping them together as “provocateurs” keeps us from dealing with either appropriately, and enhances their effectiveness. As Churchill puts it, “If there is one thing I want to get across at this point, it’s that you don’t have to be a cop to do a cop’s work. The Bellecourts are a classic example of that being true.”
A Call to Consciousness
We’ve got to pick up on the lessons of our past if we’re ever going to be able to act in the present in a way which will allow us to alter our future for the better.
æ Ward Churchill
Why didn’t someone in AIM step in to put a stop to the destructive maneuverings of the Bellecourts at some point over the past quarter-century? Why don’t more of us take the steps necessary to insure that the same tactics are not reflected in the work we do today?
For AIM, hindsight argues rather unsatisfactorily that perhaps nobody, until the AIM Tribunal in 1995, was in a position to put all the information together in a big picture and appreciate the true extent of what was happening. Perhaps a more appropriate explanation is that the desire to be “non-divisive” blinded people to the importance of confronting issues as they arose in a manner that allowed intelligent understanding of the situation by the activists involved. According to Aaron Two Elk, there seemed to be a consensus in AIM that by ignoring the problems and maintaining an artificial appearance of unity, the problems would go away:
A lot of us knew things all along. Not everything, but enough to know a lot of wrong stuff was being done. But we always took the approach of trying to ignore it or make excuses, to “keep the peace within the movement.”We didn’t want to make things worse by acting the same way Vernon did, you know? Looking back, I can see it was a big mistake, that a lot of us defaulted on our responsibilities to fix this before it got completely out of hand. Now, the question is what can be done. 179
This is an important lesson for all of us. Today, the “let’s not be divisive” argument too often excuses refusing the call to consciousness. It facilitates smear campaigns and cop-like tactics targeting those who take clear and perhaps controversial stands but are willing to argue them, like Churchill. Some say, “I’m not part of AIM; I only work in grassroots organizations,” as though AIM weren’t grassroots and as if such issues don’t arise in grassroots organizations. They do and when they do we must address and discuss them as thinking individuals concerned with the overall goal of human liberation. Avoiding this process does not avoid division, but creates and perpetuates it. By default, our silence places us squarely beside those who are the problem, not the solution. No matter where we are and what work we are doing, silence is implied and effectual consent.
Nothing can replace political consciousness and analytical abilities as we proceed down the path of human liberation. As activists we must assume the responsibility of addressing situations from a principled foundation, a foundation that can’t be developed without going through the hard work of reading, studying and analyzing other movements and organizations, enabling us to draw our own conclusions.
Authoritarian structures such as NAIMI trade upon a high degree of mindless clustering around a few self-designated “leaders.” This was sharply evident in Feike’s actions in Chicago prior to the Mumia benefit. Feike apparently saw no contradiction between her self-identification as “anti-authoritarian” and her obedient alignment with someone as fundamentally authoritarian as Vernon Bellecourt. She refused to look behind Vernon’s carefully contrived “real Indian” persona and as a result willingly placed herself in his hands. Her actions, like those of others equally thoughtless, whether out of ignorance or lack of reflection, directly undermine legitimate activists and movements by attacking genuinely independent thinkers. Such an environment hardly needs payrolled counterintelligence operatives, when our own actions do their work for them. In the name of “ideological purity” and “unity”- however defined within a particular context – denunciations, purges and smear campaigns flourish, and we obviate the need for government disrupters. What may have begun as a principled disagreement deteriorates into “leaders” issuing commands and the rest parroting them, mindlessly acting upon them, or ignoring them. No matter how you look at it the result is the same: you may be talking our talk but you’re walking The Man’s walk.
NAIMI is just one of many movements so fractured. The infiltration and destruction of the Black Panther Party, the Chicano movement and other progressive left organizations make up a palette of depressing colors. The decimation of the Old Left in the 50’s could have offered an example to the later groups and the Old Left could no doubt have benefited from the experience of groups before them. Studying them provides lessons in how the process works and how we can prevent it from happening again.
But as we make our historical analysis, we must try to see how the internal relations within these organizations created fertile breeding grounds for counterintelligence operations in the past and undermine our present work. We cannot realize human liberation on a large scale if we duplicate the dominant corporate culture’s relationships on the small scale. The work of human liberation is hard on both levels, and involves a call to political consciousness many have not yet demonstrated a willingness to make. That makes it all the more imperative that the rest of us do so.
In practical terms, this means not rushing to judgment, going to sources, checking rumors out, asking questions. It means doing your best to defuse this kind of behavior in groups you belong to if you are lucky and smart enough to see it starting. Raise unspoken suspicions and rumors and get them cleared or confirmed. Most situations allow time for investigation, primary sources are better than fourth-hand information. Straight up people can answer questions and don’t mind doing it, since they are in the business of educating more people like themselves. The odds are that if you are reading this article at all you are one who is easy with books and argument. Not everyone is. Serve those who aren’t by explaining how you do this kind of work so they can look for themselves and aren’t being asked to blindly trust you.
We must ensure that political differences within movements are aired with mutual respect rather than sensational smear campaigns and avoidance of straightforward discussion. We must take responsibility for our own investigation of controversies before passing judgment. We are the ones who must appropriately address those within our ranks who embrace tactics and attributes that weaken our work. Failing this responsibility means directly undermining the multilevel struggles now calling us to action.
Some object that “time constraints” prevent them from engaging in such investigations, or that they aren’t interested in history but what we can do now. We can’t know what to do now without knowing history. I can’t help thinking of an indigenous Mexican man who joined the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. For him, the constraints of war, poverty and disease would be excellent alibis for drawing a sum line under his mind. He not only learned Spanish, but how to read so that he could painstakingly work his way over the course of a year and a half through a biography of Zapata. Why? He could not happily call himself a Zapatista without himself knowing what he was naming himself after, what he was fighting for and whether he could stand behind it. He was hungry for knowledge, not soundbites, and acted out of integrity, not attitude. The telling contrast between his situation and ours reveals that our very aversion to knowledge itself is a reflection of the dominant culture’s influence on us.
He knew he needed to study and find answers to his questions to be of use in the struggle. The tools we need are much more accessible, but study of the past and analysis of the present require discipline and commitment not unlike that of the young Zapatista insurgente. 180 As Churchill has noted,
There are no exceptions. This kind of self-education is a fundamental obligation for anyone who claims to be a committed activist. There are no real options, and there are no shortcuts. It’s the only way to lay the informational/analytical groundwork for your average radical to recognize the sort of thing that’s been happening with National AIM Inc. and neutralize it before they end up getting neutralized by it.
I don’t want to hear that tired old evasion about how there’s “more important” stuff to focus on right now. Nothing else you may be into counts at all, once you’re neutralized. Get it? Still less do I want to hear that lame shit like “reading is boring,” or “it takes too long,” or “it’s too much work” and “aren’t there any movies I could watch on this?”
Why do you think we call it struggle?
If you’re not willing to invest what it takes to develop your own historical and analytical consciousness beyond the level of a parrot, what are you willing to invest to get something done? The answer, I think is self-evident. You’re not serious. You’re treating your politics like a fashion statement, and it’s really irresponsible of you to prattle on as if it were otherwise.
2. COINTELPRO: domestic COunterINTELligencePROgram initiated by the FBI in the 1960s and designed to neutralize any person or organization FBI director J. Edgar Hoover deemed politically objectionable.
3. While we specifically discuss the case of Ward Churchill, others who have been targets include Hank Adams, John Anaya, Bobby Castillo, Clen Chartier, Tim Coulter, Sharon Davis, Donald Grinde, David Hill, George Martin, Russell Means, Mike Meyns, Dian Million, John Mohawk, Glen Morris, Bob Robideau, Joe Locust, and Sharon Venne. NAIMI has spread the rumor, for example, that AIM veteran David Hill, a national spokesperson for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, is a “Naval Intelligence agent” and on numerous occasions has sought to discredit Bobby Castillo, currently Peltier’s international spokesperson, as a “former prison snitch” and “probable government operative.” According to Hill, the main source of this disinformation has been Michael Haney, NAIMI representative for Oklahoma. Sources in Minneapolis, however, indicate that it is also being spread from there, primarily by Vernon Bellecourt and Barbara Owl. See Joe Geshick, “Clyde pressures his employees to support him at the AIM tribunal,” Ojibwe News, Mar. 11, 1994.
4. See, e.g., books authored by Churchill: Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of American Indians (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 1992); Struggle for the Land: Indigenous Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Expropriation in North America (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 1993), Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1994); Since Predator Came: Notes from the Struggle for American Indian liberation (Littleton, CO: Aigis, 1995); From a Native Son: Selected Essays in Indigenism, (1985-1995) (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1996); A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial and the Americas 1492 to the Present (San Francisco, CA: City Lights, 1997), Pacifism as Pathology: Observations on an American Pseudopraxis (Winnepeg, Canada: Arbiter Ring, 1998). Books Co-authored by Churchill: Culture versus Economism: Essays on Marxism in the Multicultural Arena (Fourth World Center for Study of Indigenous Law and Politics, University of Colorado at Denver 1984) with Elisabeth R. Lloyd; Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1988) with Jim Vander Wall; The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1990) with Jim Vander Wall. Books edited by Churchill: Marxism and Native Americans (1983): Critical Issues in Native North America (2 Vols., 1989-1990). Books co-edited by Churchill: Cages of Steel: The Politics of Imprisonment in the United States (Washington, DC: Maisonneuve Press, 1992) with Jim Vander Wall.
5. Mumia Abu-Jamal, Live from Death Row (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995). See also Ward Churchill and Mike Willuweit, “Giving Voice to the Voiceless: The International Tribunal on the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” Dark Night field notes, No. 11 (1998).
6. Churchill’s impressive credentials include coauthorship, with Jim Vander Wall, of two benchmark studies of political repression in America, Agents and The COINTELPRO Papers. He has also authored scores of articles on the subject in periodicals ranging from Z Magazine to the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, edited or coedited several special journal editions, and coedited, with Jim Vander Wall, Cages of Steel . He has maintained a very active public speaking schedule for the past decade, serving as a primary spokesperson for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee from 1990-1994, and addressing the situations of other political prisonersÑincluding Mumia Abu Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga, Dhoruba Bin Wahad, Joe Dougherty and the Resistance ConspiracyÑin the process. In addition, Churchill wrote the article on the Abu-Jamal case used by Mumia’s national defense committee as a cornerstone of its public information campaign; Wages of COINTELPRO: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (New York: Coalition to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, 1995).
7. Attached to this letter were the following documents: “University of Colorado Professors Attack American Indian Woman at Press Conference,” 3/28/94 NAIMI press release; Paul DeMain, “Sovereignty and Its Spokesmen: The Making of an Indian,” News from Indian Country, Late-Nov. 1995; Paul DeMain, “Ward Churchill: Ward of the Government?” News From Indian Country , Mid-Sept. 1994; David Bradley, “The Columbus Syndrome and Ward Churchill,” Spirit of Crazy Horse, Nov.-Dec. 1992); “expulsion” letter dated 1/24/93 from NAIMI to Ward Churchill and Glenn Morris; “expulsion” letter dated 9/23/86 from IITC to Churchill.
8. See, e.g., DeMain, “Sovereignty.” On the numerous Internet postings, see, e.g., a posting by Brian L. Gunn, who identifies himself as being a member of the “Colville Nation (roll # 1932),” dated Nov. 8, 1993.
9. Statements made by Carole Standing Elk after “Life in the Occupied Territories of America,” a lecture delivered by Ward Churchill as a fundraiser for Radio Station KPFA and Northern California AIM, Martin Luther King, Jr. High School Auditorium, Berkeley, 23 April 1993 (tape on file).
10. Paul DeMain, “Ward Churchill, AIM?” News From Indian Country, Mid Dec. 1994. Among other things, DeMain’s biases run towards racism. When Marc Sills, an instructor with the Fourth World Center for Study of Indigenous Law and Politics at the University of Colorado at Denver, wrote in to complain of DeMain’s obvious bad jacketing of Churchill (“So what is behind the ‘bad jacketing’ trip?” News From Indian Country, Mid. Feb. 1996), DeMain- ignoring the fact that there had already been dozens of comparable responses from Indians such as Bob Robideau, Russell Means, Joe Geshick, and his own reporters- replied that Sills was merely “another white guy to Churchill’s rescue.” Small wonder that one commentator, Scott Robert Ladd, writing in Smoke Signals (“The Different Faces of AIM,” Dec. 1993) would be led to observe: “The overt racism displayed by some AIM factions is sometimes overwhelming [and] only drives away potential supporters and aid from respectful, well meaning non Indians.” It is, on the other hand, revealing that DeMain has offered no similar commentary with respect to the Bellecourts when non Indians have sent letters to the editor in their behalf; e.g., Paul William Taylor, “Writer defends Vernon and Clyde,” Ojibwe News, April 1, 1994.
11. In a letter to the editor published in Indian Country Today, September 1994, Seals also claimed to have acquired Churchill’s “military record” during an investigation conducted at the request of the Black Hills Alliance during the early 80s, discovering that Ward had spent “two tours in Vietnam” as a “public information specialist” for the US Army. “That’s military intelligence,” he concludes. Actually, Churchill, who was drafted in 1966, spent less than one tour in Vietnam (Feb. Oct. 1968), serving in the capacity mentioned for about three months. A public information specialist, however, is a reporter, not an intelligence officer. Moreover, both Russell Means and former Black Hills Alliance Director Nick Meinhart confirm that no “investigation” of Churchill was ever ordered. The only material Seals appears ever to have seen on Ward was a vita attached to a proposal for Yellow Thunder Camp. In fact, a Black Hills Alliance investigation of Seals was convened in 1982 after he “accidentally” bankrupted the organization’s newspaper, Paha Sapa Report, by causing the wrong front page to be printed. He then wandered up the street to volunteer his services to the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, located in Rapid City in those days, later disappearing with about $1500 in donations. Reemerging in Denver, he began his ongoing campaign to undermine the credibility of Churchill, Glenn Morris and Colorado AIM more generally, while writing his initially self published parody of the movement, Pow Wow Highway (made into a movie by ex Beatle George Harrison over the strenuous objections of the Northern Cheyenne). As the noted Paiute poet/novelist Adrian C. Lewis put it in a letter to Churchill on Sept. 21, 1992 (copy on file), “David Seals…now has a sequel to ‘Pow Wow Highway’ out. Although he claims AIM connections, etc., he is really not an Indian. He’s a new age weirdo and a terrible writer at that.”
12. The degree to which “badjacketing” or”snitchjacketing” tactics succeed is dependent upon the degree to which the targeted audience retains, among other things, strong proclivities toward soundbite responses and intellectual laziness. From whatever source, these tactics have been applied most commonly against activists demonstrating leadership capacities that might be able to transcend the already-rampant divisiveness of the Left. They have also been devastatingly effective. Dating from as early as 1918, the FBI has applied badjacketing techniques against anarchists, communists, radical union organizers and other “subversives;” Sanford J. Ungar, FBI: An Uncensored Look Behind the Walls (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975) pp. 41-58. By the mid-1950s the Bureau’s perfected badjacketing techniques had proven so successful in undermining opposition groups that they were incorporated as a mainstay in its highly secret COINTELPRO. Hence, during the 1960s, badjacketing was widely used to discredit “key activists” in targets as diverse as the civil rights movement, “old left” groups like the Communist and Socialist Workers parties, “new left” organizations like Students for a Democratic Society, and the antiwar movement. Especially vicious efforts were directed against the membership of the Black Panther Party and other national liberation movements such as the Revolutionary Action Movement, Republic of New Africa, Brown Berets and Puerto Rican independentistas. See Brian Glick, War at Home: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It (Boston: South End Press, 1989) pp. 7-18; M. Wesley Swearingen, FBI Secrets: An Agent’s Exposé (Boston: South End Press, 1995). Although the FBI supposedly abandoned its campaign to “disrupt, destabilize and destroy” political dissidents during the 1970s, its use of badjacketing techniques and related COINTELPRO techniques was plainly continued against the American Indian Movement later in the decade (Matthiessen, In the Spirit). The same can be said with respect to the FBI’s “investigation” of CISPES (Committee In Support of the People of El Salvador) and hundreds of other Latin American solidarity groups during the mid-to-late 1980s [Ross Gelbspan, Break-Ins, Death Threats and the FBI: The Covert War Against the Central America Movement (Boston: South End, 1991)], as well as Palestine support organizers and radical environmental groups like Earth First! at about the same time [Ronald Soble, “Deportation of Alleged PLO Members Tied to FBI Report,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 22, 1987; Jeff Gottlieb, “Immigrants say they’re target of FBI harassment,” Los Angeles Herald Examiner, May 22,1988. Judi Bari, Timber Wars (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 1994); Ward Churchill, “The FBI Targets Judi Bari: A Case Study in Domestic Counterinsurgency,” Covert Action Quarterly , No. 47, Winter 1993-1994]. In view of all this, there is every reason to assume that such practices have been sustained into the 1990s. Indeed, several Reagan/Bush-era statutes and executive orders, and the recently-passed “Omnibus Anti-Terrorist Crime Bill,” make it clear that official reliance on political counterintelligence operations has been steadily increasing, not decreasing. Of particular relevance is Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333 (December 4, 1981) which, under Section 2.9, expressly authorizes government infiltration of political organizations for purposes of “influencing” them politically. Under Section 1.8(c) and Section 1.12(d), it also authorizes not only the FBI but the CIA and military intelligence agencies to engage in other previously illegal counterintelligence activities. Under Section 2.6(c), these agencies are authorized to provide “technical assistance” to local police in acquiring the capacity to do the same thing, while under Section 2.4 and Section 2.5, all of them are authorized to engage in warrantless burglaries for purposes of political intelligence. These provisions are incorporated into the current Attorney General’s “Guidelines on General Crimes, Racketeering Enterprise and Domestic Security/Terrorism Investigations (March 7, 1983).”
13. Confirmed by Jean Caiani at Speakout! (letter dated March 8, 1994; copy on file), Ellie Deegan at K&S Speakers (letter dated March 7, 1994; copy on file), and Bob Baldock of Radio Station KPFA, Berkeley (report dated May 2, 1993; copy on file).
15. This began in 1993 when Churchill agreed to deliver a keynote talk at the annual Marxist Scholars Conference at Loyola University. Michael Pierce, ostensible head of NAIMI’s Kansas City chapter, called organizer Carl Davidson to threaten that “a hundred warriors” would disrupt the event if Churchill was allowed to speak. Unintimidated, Davidson notified Churchill, who, in turn, arranged for Southern Illinois AIM to provide security. Nobody from Pierce’s “hundred warriors” showed up. The sole exception to this routine occurred during a 1994 event at a local community college, in which Bob Robideau, Bobby Castillo and Churchill participated. This time, it was Pierce’s brother Tom, purported head of the NAIMI chapter in Kentucky, who threatened dire consequences if the talks were given. Rather than pickets, Tom himself turned up midway through the program, entered through a side door, and attempted to secure an unobtrusive seat at the rear of the room. When Churchill publicly challenged Pierce to defend his allegations, he declined, stating that he had “no issue,” and then slunk back out the way he’d come in. While he’s never come to another event, he’s remained one of the more active smearers in the Midwest.
17. Comments from George Martin, May 5, 1993; Ward Churchill, “Report to the Colorado AIM Membership: Recent Activities of Margaret Martinez (‘Cahuilla Red Elk’) in Collaborating with Minneapolis to Discredit Colorado AIM,” May 1, 1993 (unpublished document; copy on file).
18. According to the report filed by event organizer Bob Baldock with Jean Caiani of Speakout!, Northern California AIM’s George Martin and others on May 2, 1993, the amount was $795. Baldock goes on to sketch some other methods used by Standing Elk’s group: “Flyers promoting the talk were taken from some sites and thrown away. Posters were torn down”; “A KPFA programmer [Chuy Varella] told me that Ward Churchill had been a Contra supporter, and had written for Soldier of Fortune magazine. He promised to support these claims with documentation: this has not appeared”; “An anonymous telephone caller to my home [on April 18, 1993] shouted that Ward Churchill was a Contra and threatened to burn my house to the ground”; “April 19th, another anonymous phone call simply said, ‘You and white man Ward Churchill better watch out, motherfucker. We’ll get both of you'”; “There were three telephone calls to my house by Carole Standing Elk, who claimed to be…the head of the Northern California American Indian Movement. All of her calls were lengthy and repetitive attacks on Ward Churchill, Bobby Castillo, the local AIM group supported by Churchill, and so on. During two calls, she threatened a group picketing of both KPFA and M.L. King Jr. High School if the talk wasn’t canceled.” Baldock concludes that, “Two years ago I worked on a fundraising benefit in Berkeley for Peltier, helped by Russell Means, Dennis Banks and Ward Churchill; this raised nearly $17,000 for the Peltier Defense Committee… I believe the sustained interference by Carole Standing Elk [in 1993] cost KPFA (and the AIM group supported by Ward Churchill, Russell Means, Leonard Peltier and Bobby Castillo) considerable money.”
25. Statement by Dr. Tom Barton, April 12, 1996. Additional information on the activities of the local NAIMI affiliate, calling itself the “Intertribal Association,” is in an editorial found in the student paper The Collegian (October 12, 1995) appearing a day after Churchill’s first talk on the Toledo campus. Also see Morgan Clark, “Activist denounces treatment of Native Americans” The Collegian, Oct. 12, 1995; Carl Ryan, “Indian activist speaks of ‘American Holocaust’,” Toledo Blade, Oct. 12, 1995.
26. In a 1995 letter to Denver based Jewish activist Marc Sills (copy on file), Todd Williamson, a student who helped organize the event at Bowling Green, gave the following recap: “You are right on target when you claim that Ward Churchill is being bad jacketed. I will share a personal experience that confirms this for me. Last year I was working at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and was able to bring Ward Churchill to the campus for an educational program. It was a very successful program, with about 600 students in attendance. By the way, Ward speaks with as much grace as he writes. At any rate, during the weeks following his appearance at BGSU, a lot of strange things occurred. A professor of Native American Studies got a visit from a couple of federal agents at her home. They questioned her about whether she used Ward’s books in her classes, and if she agreed with his political agenda, etc. I received a phone call from Vernon Bellecourt at Minneapolis AIM. I played real naive on the phone, because I was leery of Van in the first place. He bashed me for bringing in Ward and pumped me full of lies including that Ward had plagiarized all his writings from Jerry Mander (author of In the Absence of the Sacred ). He even went so far as to tell me Ward Churchill was a government infiltrator. Vernon said Russell Means had recently ‘changed his tune as regards Churchill’s credibility.'” Williamson, in a move undoubtedly unanticipated by Bellecourt, actually queried Means about this a few weeks later, and was told that the assertion was an “unequivocal lie.”
27. On Churchill’s talk, see James Drew, “Native American wants U.S. out of North America,” Toledo Blade, February 26, 1995. Churchill was initially invited to speak at the anniversary celebration by Dr. Bob Perry, chair of the Ethnic Studies Department. The invitation was publicly reaffirmed by Perry during a National Ethnic Studies Association conference conducted at the University of Colorado in April. In October, Associate Dean Lynn Stone left a message on Churchill’s voice mail stating that he was calling to arrange the details, and asking Ward to return the call at his convenience. When Churchill did so, however, Dr. Stone said he was on another line, and that he’d “get back to” Ward. He never did. When Churchill finally reached him again, several weeks later, Stone told him, “You aren’t being invited. Period.” Dr. Perry has no explanation for what he concedes was Stone’s “unprofessional behavior and discourtesy.”
30. “[Vernon] Bellecourt questioned how Churchill could obtain COINTELPRO documents when others had been unable to do so”; Shelly Davis, “Split in AIM leads to charges,” News From Indian Country, Mid January 1994.
31. Former Sangamon State University professor David Hilligoss spent more than an hour on the phone with a reporter spinning out all manner of “firsthand” fables about Churchill without realizing he was being recorded. The tape was then sent to Churchill, who later confronted Hilligoss directly, quoting specific statements made to the reporter. Hilligoss not only denied that there was any truth to the statements, but that he’d ever made them.
32. Statement of Jim Vander Wall, April 2, 1995. The information has been independently confirmed by Taylor, Ellison, and Mary O’Melveny, formerly an attorney with the Jonathan Lubell law off in New York.
33. Actually, this seems to have begun with a complaint by Clyde Bellecourt that too much attention was paid in all the literature on AIM, not just the Churchill/Vander Wall books, to Pine Ridge and Russell Means, not enough to the Bellecourts and Minneapolis; in NAIMI’s 1993 “expulsion letter,” Churchill is accused of not “giving recognition of the real leaders of this movement” in his writings. For an insider’s perspective on the validity of the Bellecourt’s concerns on this score, see Leonard Peltier, “Statement of Leonard Peltier on Clyde Bellecourt and Minneapolis AIM,” Ojibwe News, Feb. 15, 1994: “You are jealous. For the past six months or more, you have made your many grievances known to me. You have openly complained that no movie researchers or authors of historical books have given you or Minneapolis AIM (including, of course, your brother Vernon) any attention. You have said this even as you’ve claimed you do not want to become a ‘celebrity.’ Well, it has become clear to everyone that, despite your denials, you really do want to become a ‘Big Star.’ I will tell you this: Every person I’ve spoken with has responded unfavorably to your ambitions.”
34. Other awards include the Myers Award for Fantasies of the Master Race and Struggle for the Land. Churchill was also a finalist for the Colorado Book Award for Since Predator Came. Certificates on file.
35. See, e.g., Ward Churchill “On my identity, and my AIM,” Colorado Daily , Jan. 18, 1994. Also see Ward Churchill, “Boulder sends more to Central America than a bunch of peaceniks,” Colorado Daily, Aug. 11, 1985.
37. Ward Churchill, “Boulder’s mercenary journalist in the thick of covert activities,” Colorado Daily, Apr. 6 7, 1984; “Soldier of Fortune,” Daily World, Mar. 15, 1984; “Soldier of Fortune’s Robert K. Brown,” Covert Action/Information Bulletin, No. 22, Oct. 1986; reprinted in The Best of CAIB, Special Issue, Fall 1989. It is also worth noting that Churchill has been interviewed for a number of articles by other journalists in which the Soldier of Fortune mercenary operation was exposed; see, e.g., Alan Prendergast, “The boys in the bush: For Soldier of Fortune, fighting guerrillas in El Salvador is just another assignment,” Columbia Journalism Review, Nov./Dec. 1983.
38. Statement of Alexander Cockburn during the conference “Beyond Glory: Re Presenting Terrorism,” at the Maryland Art Institute, March 1992; the proceedings are partially reproduced in David J. Brown and Robert Merrill, eds., Violent Persuasions: The Politics and Imagery of Terrorism (Seattle: Bay, 1993).
39. See, e.g., Giago’s eulogy to Wilson in Lakota Times on Feb. 13, 1990. In a subsequent editorial, Giago asserted that contrary to the contentions of researchers like Churchill, who places the confirmed bodycount at 69, his own investigators had found evidence supporting “only 10” AIM members having been murdered by Wilson’s GOONs on Pine Ridge between March 1973 and March 1976; Tim Giago, “Facts and figures tell true story of Wounded Knee, ’73,” Indian Country Today, Nov. 10, 1993.
40. It is noteworthy that NAIMI picked up this entirely spurious allegation-“You, Mr. Churchill, after a period of time [in] which you declared yourself a member of various Indian groups…”-at page 6 of its November 24, 1993, letter of expulsion addressed to Churchill and Glen (sic) Morris. Also interesting is the analysis of Giago offered by one of his own relatives in a letter to Churchill on Sept. 21, 1992 (copy on file): “He has a deep rooted insecurity about his own Indian ness, and because of this, he often attacks others about their Indian ness… Tim Giago is an unscrupulous user of Indian people.”
44. “Before that, I’d explicitly identified myself as being unenrolled,” Churchill says. “That’s reflected in the vitas I submitted to Black Hills State College in 1975, the Boulder Valley School District in 1976, and the University of Colorado in 1978, all of them presumably on file with the relevant personnel offices. But that left open the possibility, especially with respect to Cherokee, that I might be an unenrolled fullblood or something. So I adopted the term métis as being a more accurate self descriptor. Nobody except Tim Giago raised any fuss about it from 1979 until 1990 or 91, and that includes people like Vernon Bellecourt and Suzan Harjo.”
46. “Start with Ruben Tyner, on the 1817 Cherokee Emigration Roll, and work your way forward. Perhaps you’ll end up, if you connect the dots correctly, not only with the Tyners, but with the Allens and Julia Churchill as well, on the 1898 1914 Dawes/Quion Miller Rolls”; Churchill, “On my identity.”
48. The nature of the hiring process is a matter of record with the school district, and is confirmed by Roseanna Sneed (enrolled Eastern Cherokee) and Sarah Carufel Williams (enrolled Lac du Flambeau Chippewa) who were members of the parents’ hiring committee.
50. The letter, signed by Joe D. Locust, Sr., Vivian Nelson Locust, Lillian Fobb, Loma Star Yellow Wood Williams, Sylvia Crippen, Don Kaulity and George ‘Tink’ Tinker (Elders Council), and Melissa Stone Road, Douglas Remington, Ted Roy, Josh Dillabaugh, Vicci Anderson, Jo Wilkerson, Michelle Wolf, Tony Beltham, Jennifer Williams and Carol Berry (Leadership Council), and was published under the heading “Churchill a long standing member of AIM leadership,” Colorado Daily, February 25, 1994. Another letter, signed off by more than a hundred chapter members, was not published.
52. The “issue” is itself an irrelevancy in the Colorado AIM community, as chapter spokespersons Robert Chanate (enrolled Kiowa) and Josh Dillabaugh (enrolled Cheyenne River Sioux) put it in a letter published in the Colorado Daily on Dec. 16, 1993. With reference to a profile of Churchill by Jodi Rave, published in the Daily on Nov. 23, they state: Its “biased journalism gives a distorted view of the sentiments of native people. The article states that Ward Churchill ‘…by Indian standards, is not an Indian’ because he is not an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe. The article goes on to state that ‘…an attitude prevails in Indian Country: If you’re not enrolled, you’re not shit.’ Actually, enrollment is not an ‘Indian standard’; it is a standard imposed on indigenous people by the U.S. government.”
53. Carmen identifies herself as being part of the “Yaqui Nation” of “California” despite the fact that California was never part of Yaqui territory, and that she herself lives in Alaska. Gonzales identifies himself as a “Seri/Chicano”; International Indian Treaty Council Speakers Bureau brochure (IITC’s offices are located in San Francisco; contact information vis a vis the Speaker’s Bureau is, however, listed as being Minneapolis, where NAIMI is situated).
54. Cornsilk is quoted in the above mentioned article by Jodi Rave-“Few who know Churchill are indifferent: Some critics question CU prof’s ‘Indianness'”-and falsely identified as “a genealogist for the Cherokee Nation.” He also appeared at a meeting of the Keetoowah Cherokee Band Council in an unsuccessful effort to block Churchill’s enrollment by the group, on the grounds that, among other things, Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt objected (video tape on file). Cornsilk also published a guest column titled “A threat to sovereignty: illegal Indian aliens” in the Dec. 12, 1993, issue of Indian Country Today in which he sides with Vernon Bellecourt, Suzan Harjo, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and “the rest” in denying that Churchill is of Cherokee descent, but offers nothing by which to substantiate (or even support) the statement.
58. Statement of Ward Churchill, July 10, 1994; also see David Kamp, “Churchill honored with membership at Keetoowah council,” Ojibwe News, July 22, 1994. Many others, incidentally, agree with Churchill on this. As Robert Scott Ladd put it (“The different faces of AIM”), “Racism divides Indian people. Some AIM factions have begun demanding to see people’s tribal membership cards; I’ve seen confrontation within AIM in Colorado, and I’ve heard of tense incidents in California. It seems odd that an organization so concerned with racism should partake of the incredibly racist ‘white’ system of identifying Native Americans by blood quanta.”
59. Joe Geshick, “Integrity of Bellecourt Brothers called into question again,” Ojibwe News, Feb. 18, 1994; “Clyde pressures his employees.” According to Sara Lawrence, an Ojibwe News editor, the Bellecourts’ blood quantum cannot in fact be accurately computed at all since their mother is shown on the White Earth rolls as possessing no degree of Indian blood at all (this is correct; a complete copy of the pertinent records is on file).
60. Clinton was made an “Honorary Keetowah” in 1994. The accolade bears no suggestion of either Cherokee descent or genuine membership status within the Band. Churchill, on the other hand, is an Associate Member: one whose descent is verified at less than one quarter blood quantum, and who is under Keetoowah rules as much a member as anyone else other than that he does not vote or hold office. There is thus a substantial difference between Clinton’s standing and Churchill’s which DeMain has deliberately chosen to blur.
61. Put quite eloquently: “The ‘identity police’ [claim to be involved in] some sort of viable move toward ending the oppression of indigenous peoples. On the contrary, to oppose those who struggle for justice and self determination is to align oneself with the oppressor. The movement for justice is being derailed by the identity police, who are nothing more than tools of the state in [its] efforts to divide and conquer. Once again, envy and personal vendettas will have served the oppressor’s purpose”‘ (Chanate and Dillabaugh, Letter).
62. The Act, Public Law 101 644 (104 Stat. 4662) was signed by George Bush on November 29, 1990. It makes it a crime punishable by fines of up to $1 million and as much as fifteen years federal imprisonment for anyone not officially recognized as such to identify themselves as an American Indian when selling arts or crafts. Churchill’s major response was published under the title “Nobody’ Pet Poodle: Jimmie Durham, an Artist for Native North America” in Crazy Horse Spirit (Summer 1992) and is included in his Indians Are Us?. His remarks on Bradley were made in response to a question at the conclusion of a public lecture at the University of New Mexico on April 15, 1992.
63. Suzan Shown Harjo, “Harjo responds to writers’ series,” Indian Country Today, Sept. 29, 1993; “Suzan Harjo: Churchill has come out of his closet,” Indian Country Today, Dec. 8, 1993. The first reference is to a three part series by Indian Country Today staff writer Jerry Reynolds, “Indian writers: the good, the bad and the could be,” run in the paper during September and October 1993.
64. See, e.g., David Bradley, “Colorado newspapers side with Ward,” Indian Country Today, Dec. 22, 1993; “Churchill’s ‘unnaturally hateful’ tactics,” Indian Country Today, Mid August 1994; “The tribes decide,” San Francisco Weekly, Nov. 10, 1993; “Jodi Rave is a student hero,” Colorado Daily, Jan. 13, 1994; and undated, xeroxed circular, “The Columbus Syndrome and Ward Churchill, Chief of the Wannabees, a Tribe of the Master Race” (copy on file), excerpts from which were first published in the November December 1992 issue of Crazy Horse Spirit and reprinted in News From Indian Country in late June 1994. Bradley also contacted one of Churchill’s publishers, Common Courage Press, with a threat to file suit if Indians Are Us? was not immediately withdrawn from distribution; he was told by Common Courage attorney Edward Copeland to take a hike in correspondence dated March 29, 1994 (copy on file). It has always been assumed that Bradley has been fronting for Suzan Harjo. While this is probably true, a handwritten notation he made in the margin of a fax he sent to NAIMI in 1993 (copy on file) makes it clear he’s been receiving instruction from Vernon Bellecourt as well.
67. Dr. Evelyn Hu-DeHart reported to Dean Charles Middleton that “In a letter addressed to Marilyn Decala [sic] of CU, dated December 27, 1993, [Standing Elk] enclosed 18 items-which she annotated and offered as supporting material for her charges against Prof. Churchill. Many of the items were written by Ms. Standing Elk herself or issued by organizations she is closely associated with, i.e., National AIM.” Hu-DeHart further reported that Harjo made her claims in a letter dated March 9, 1994 (copy on file). Harjo also claimed that Churchill had physically menaced her during a conference at the University of Colorado, and that she was thereafter afraid to set foot on the campus. Dr. Vine Deloria, Jr., who had organized the conference, and Dr. Deward E. Walker, who was in attendance, stated categorically that the “incident” recounted by Harjo had never occurred; Hu DeHart, Report, October 10, 1994 (copy on file).
68. “Even if Mr. Churchill is not an American Indian, as he claims, Title VII protects Caucasians as well as persons of color. Further, it has always been University policy that a person’s race or ethnicity is self proving. This University policy regarding self identification is consistent with the law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that observation and self identification are the most reliable indicators of one’s racial grouping”; letter from Chancellor James Corbridge to Vernon Bellecourt, April 19, 1994 (copy on file).
69. Hu DeHart, Report. Hu DeHart’s assessment corresponds very well with the tactics described by Ojibwe News editor Sara Lawrence in a letter written to CU President Albino in support of Churchill on April 6, 1994 (copy on file): “Unfortunately, many others have had to endure the Bellecourts’ brand of smear tactics that are currently being inflicted on Mr. Churchill. They always operate in the same manner, starting out with a series of vicious rumors, followed by the famous words ‘He/She’s not a real Indian!’ if the person is light skinned, and utilizing, ‘He/She’s an FBI informant!’ if the individual passes the scrutiny of the ‘purity police.’ Then they proceed to harassment of the individual’s employer, funder, sponsor, etc., and speaking in loud, authoritative voices they try to preach their way to intimidation, all the while threatening legal action. Sadly, we in Minnesota know their ways well.”
70. This was added to the already-received honorariums of the President’s University Service Award (1987), Robert L. Stearns Alumni Service Award (1989), Thomas Jefferson Award (1990), College of Arts & Sciences Writing Award (1992), and honorary doctorate from Alfred University (1992); Hu DeHart, Report (evaluations and certificate on file). As concerns the “misuse of institutional resources” allegation, Hu DeHart concluded that, “I find no evidence to support this charge. Since joining the [Ethnic Studies] faculty, Ward Churchill uses only plain white paper, his home address, and his name without his university title or affiliation in any non university related business. He has not traveled at university expense. He has the lowest xerox charge of any faculty member [in the unit], the lowest phone charge, and practically never uses the university’s long distance line. He uses his office…only to conduct university business, such as meet with students.”
77. Robideau, Statement: “Paul DeMain is such an anti Indian racist that if an Indian like Ward Churchill accomplishes something intellectually, he automatically calls the guy white. Then he rewrites history so that all anything any of the rest of us did was somehow the result of what this ‘white’ guy told us to do.”
79. Churchill’s resignation as Peltier spokesperson came on the heels of my “removal” by Peltier as spokesperson of the Leonard Peltier Support Group/Chicago which later resigned en masse protesting Peltier’s command that his support group network neither “associate with” Dark Night field notes, nor “read” it. The group chose to continue publishing Dark Night field notes and to continue to fight for Leonard’s freedom in their own way. All correspondence relating to these actions are on file. The article in question, “You Don’t Have to be a Cop to do a Cop’s Work: A Hard Look at the Walk for Justice for Leonard Peltier” appeared in Dark Night field notes no. 1, Summer 1994,. and was of the kind that investigates charities in order to inform the public where their contributions will do the most good.
80. The letter (copy on file) was cosigned by William A. Means, IITC Executive Director, and Bill Wahpepah, IITC Director of Information. In a March 30, 1994, telephone interview with another reporter (it was recorded; transcript on file), Vernon Bellecourt claimed credit for having written it.
82. See, e.g., Ward Churchill and Glenn Morris, “The real AIM stands up,” Colorado Daily, Feb. 19, 1986; in the article, the authors dismiss the Bellecourts’ pretensions of centralized authority over AIM as “Stalinist.”
83. The letter (copy on file) is signed by Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, Herb Powless and Carole Standing Elk. It is also supposedly signed by Keetoowah Cherokee elder Sam Dry Water, listed as “Senior Advisor American Indian Movement.” Dry Water, however, endorsed Churchill’s enrollment in the Keetoowahs only a few months later, and his signature appears to have been pasted onto the page. “Sam and I get along fine,” Churchill says, “and I doubt he actually signed the letter, although I’ve never bothered to ask.” Another evidence of this sort of thing may be found in a tape recorded exchange between Bob Robideau and Chief Billy Tayac (transcript on file), a leader of the Piscataway Nation in Maryland and head of LISN (League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations), an organization NAIMI counts as an ally, and which it claims endorsed the expulsions of Churchill and Morris: “Tayac: ‘Let me explain something to you. I don’t agree with what they have done. I don’t agree with them attacking Ward Churchill… They used our name for the conference where they said everybody unanimously endorsed the ouster of Ward Churchill. We had nothing to do with that. We weren’t even there. We didn’t even know that was on their agenda. People were left with the impression we were part of that, but we weren’t… We do not recognize them [NAIMI] and…I have been at odds with the Bellecourts!'”
86. The document (copy on file) is stamped as having been submitted to the state on July 9, 1993. It’s registered office is listed on the cover sheet as 3417 20th Ave. So., Minneapolis, which is Vernon Bellecourt’s home address. On page 4 of the document itself, however, the registered office is listed as 704 University Avenue, St. Paul, which was Vernon Bellecourt’s address back in the 1970s and where he hasn’t lived for years (it hasn’t been an AIM facility in any sense for about fifteen years).
87. The address for William Means, for example, is listed on page 4 as being Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation, Porcupine, South Dakota; he lived on the Rosebud Reservation from 1976 82, and has lived in Minneapolis thereafter. The address for Dennis Banks, who has stated directly that he was not involved in the 1993 incorporation, is listed as Leech Lake Indian Reservation, Cass Lake, Minnesota; Banks has not lived at that location since the 1960s.
88. Statement of John Trudell, September 1993. Trudell’s address is listed on p. 5 as being on the Duck Valley Paiute Reservation in Nevada, where he last resided in 1979. The out-of-date addresses given for Vernon Bellecourt and William Means are the same as listed on page 4.
89. Article X, at p. 6, is devoted to the appointment and functions of the “Central Committee”( interestingly not “Central Governing Council” or any of the other softer terms Vernon Bellecourt has used in an effort to mask his rather obvious authoritarian agenda).
90. Statements of Oklahoma AIM representatives Jokay Dowell and Corky Allen, Dec. 17, 1994. Haney’s involvement is illuminating insofar as he was expelled from AIM two decades ago by another of the movement’s many “Executive Directors,” Dennis Banks. In a letter dated February 11, 1975 (copy on file), Banks stated that, “Effective immediately, Michael Haney is not a member of AIM, nor a representative of the AIM National Offices in any capacity. He is not to be allowed on, or near any AIM functions or premises.”
91. Statement of LPDC Director Lisa Faruolo, Nov. 14, 1993; the National AIM presence in Kansas City may have disappeared altogether by this point, since no listing for either AIM or Michael Pierce is available through directory assistance.
95. See Geshick, “Clyde pressures his employees.” Those who don’t comply with the boss’s orders are summarily sacked, as in the cases of Ronald “Bear” Cronick and Wally Storbakken; see, e.g., Patti Martin and other concerned citizens of Minneapolis, “Community members speak out on Cronick’s resignation and Bellecourt’s role,” Ojibwe News, Mar. 9, 1993; Anthony Dino, “Bear suffered enough/Bellecourt should be honest with community,” Ojibwe News , Mar. 9, 1993; Anthony Short, “Minneapolis Native stands up to Bellecourt,” Ojibwe News, Mar. 16, 1993; Kurt Erickson, “AIM board elected at Phillips meeting: Board discusses strengthening neighborhood patrol, youth program,” Minnesota Daily, July 28, 1993; telephone deposition of Wally Storbakken, Feb. 27, 1994 (copy on file).
99. Geshick, “Integrity of Bellecourt Brothers,” Edward T. Needaybway, “Is This Traditional Leadership?” The Circle, February 1992; Joe Geshick, “Geshick comments on Bellecourts’ indictment,” Ojibwe News, Feb. 4, 1994; Jack Hayes, “Blood Brothers,” Mpls-St. Paul Magazine, March 1996.
100. References to this are numerous. Most succinctly, see Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Postindian Warriors of Survivance (Hanover, NH: Weslyan, 1994) pp. 155, 162; Means, White Men, pp. 180, 325.
101. On March 19, 1979, Vernon Bellecourt testified before the Civil Rights Commission that “the national office of the American Indian Movement”-actually, a “seven member board” headed by himself-had at that point received $4.5 in federal funds to administer the Red Earth Housing Project in Minneapolis; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Justice, National Indian Civil Rights Issues: Hearing Held in Washington, DC, March 19 20, 1979, Vol. I: Testimony (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979) p. 30. On federal funding for the Heart of the Earth School and the job training program, see Francis Blake, Jr., “Reflections from the Anishinabe Nation,” Ojibwe News, July 16, 1993; Davis, “Split in AIM”; and a xeroxed puff piece by Laura Waterman Wittstock entitled “The Clear Vision of the American Indian Movement” handed out by Clyde Bellecourt at the AIM tribunal on Mar. 26, 1994 (copy on file).
102. Statement by Ward Churchill, Mar. 27, 1994; “Clyde is totally out of control here. He is totally abusive. Unfortunately, he is in a position where he has a lot of money and he has control over several organizations. We all know how he is able to maintain control: he is paying people money to vote”; deposition of Pat Sheppo, an Anishinabe woman from Minneapolis, Feb. 27, 1993 (copy on file).
105. Jim Carrier, “Group AIM-ed at parade: Movement unites in Columbus protest,” Denver Post, Sept. 5, 1992; Mark Cohen, “Columbus Day: The Next 500 Years” Building Bridges: Progressive Politics Network News, October 15, 1992; Means, White Men, p. 521.
106. This sudden growth spurt had the somewhat amusing side effect of causing a momentary proliferation of “national officers” and “national directors,” each of them seeking to capitalize on the phenomenon. One is that of AIM founder Dennis Banks, long dormant in movement politics, who, on January 28, 1993, abruptly issued a press release in San Francisco proclaiming himself National Director, the inimitable Carole Standing Elk as National Secretary, Fern Mathias as head of the Los Angeles AIM District and so on. After a rather confusing interval, Banks quietly dropped his imagined directoral role, becoming instead a peddler of ceremonies and spiritual seminars to northern California crystal gazers until he latched onto the notion of turning a buck by organizing a “Walk for Justice for Leonard Peltier.” For their part, Standing Elk and her lot quickly shifted allegiance (and claims to “authorization” for their newly minted titles) to the Bellecourts; see, e.g., “You Don’t Have to Be a Cop to Do a Cop’s Work: A Hard Look at the “Walk for Justice for Leonard Peltier’.” Dark Night field notes, No. 1, Summer 1994.
108. Robert Jackson, “‘We won before we started’,” Rocky Mountain News , Oct. 11, 1992; Ward Marchant, ” Columbus parade canceled: Italian American group, Indians fail to reach agreement in Denver,” Boulder Daily Camera , Oct. 11, 1992.
109. Actually, Castillo was only one of a broad swath of individuals and organizations targeted for disruption by what Standing Elk described as her “AIM Purity Police.” Within months, they’d managed to drive KPFA’s Cathy Chapman, director of the popular and successful “Living on Indian Time” program, from her position; lay siege to a drug and alcohol treatment facility in San Francisco, resulting in its temporary closure and the suicide of a client; cause another such facility to lose its funding and accommodations in a church basement; create such havoc at San Francisco State University that, Dr. Elizabeth Parent, then head of the Native Studies Program, had a restraining order issued to bar Standing Elk from setting foot on campus; and harassed the parents’ committee of the local school district’s Indian education program to such an extent that it issued a circular on Standing Elk; see, e.g., circular captioned “CAROL STANDING ELK,” and cover letter, issued by the Title V Indian Education Project Parent’s Advisory Committee, San Francisco Unified School District, Nov. 20, 1993 (copy on file); Autonomous AIM Council of California “Statement of opposition.”
112. Hu-DeHart, Report.; in a March 7, 1994, letter addressed to the Confederated AIM Tribunal (copy on file), Hu DeHart also indicated that Bellecourt had already commenced his efforts to have Churchill fired from his university position as early as March 1993. See also, e.g., Steve Jackson, “Civil Wars,” Westword, Feb. 9, 1994.
118. Means, Statement. Means is correct that autonomy of chapters – not centralized authority – was the guiding principle of the movement from its outset. In the “American Indian Fact Sheet” it distributed during the early 1970s, point 4 reads, “Unlike other organizations and agencies dealing with Indian affairs, AIM uniquely begins with the people and pyramids to a national organization. It is the chapters which direct and dictate priorities to the national officers… Each chapter is independent and autonomous” (emphasis added); the fact sheet is reproduced U.S. Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, Revolutionary Activities in the United States: The American Indian Movement (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976) pp. 90-1.
119. Shelly Davis, “AIM Tribunal convicts on two charges,” Ojibwe News , Apr. 1, 1994; Joe Geshick, “Geshick reports on San Francisco AIM Tribunal,” Ojibwe News, Apr. 1, 1994; “AIM Tribunal Finds Bellecourt Brothers Guilty of Subverting Movement” (press release; copy on file).
122. Regina Brave, Donald A. Grinde, Jr., Joe Locust, Dian Million and Sharon H. Venne, “Preliminary Statement of the Tribunal of the Autonomous Chapters of the American Indian Movement,” March 27, 1994 (copy on file).
123. An autonomous AIM circular announcing the tribunal and distributed in the native community during February and March 1994 includes the statement, in boldface type, “AMERICAN INDIAN PRESS ONLY” (copy on file).
127. Statement of Donald A. Grinde, Jr., Apr. 9, 1996; for a much earlier and vastly more detailed analysis, see Bob Robideau, “An Open Letter in Response to Paul DeMain’s ‘Objective Journalism’,” Dark Night field notes, No. 1, Summer 1994.
128. Statement of Ward Churchill, Apr. 9, 1996. Another possibility concerns physical intimidation of the sort visited upon Ojibwe News by the Bellecourts: see, e.g., William J. Lawrence, “Freedom of the Press, AIM Style,” Ojibwe News, July 16, 1993; Joe Geshick, “Crow Bellecourt threatens NAP reporter,” Ojibwe News, Dec. 3, 1993.
131. In a confused and complicated incident about which Carter Camp refuses to speak, but in which all the parties were armed and menacing each other, Carter Camp shot at Vernon Bellecourt, hitting Clyde in the stomach (Clyde had typically interposed himself in front of his brother). Although Clyde refused to press charges and otherwise seems to have made serious efforts to put things back together, the incident opened a split within AIM which has never healed. The fullest account appears in Means, White Men, pp. 295-296. For a more garbled version of what happened, attributing the badjacketing of Carter Camp to Clyde Bellecourt, see Matthiessen, In the Spirit, pp. 85-6. Several longtime AIM members have confirmed that Vernon Bellecourt and/or “his group” was the source of rumors that Camp was “a fed.”
132. Trudell himself initiated this final dissolution of such titles after his entire family was brutally murdered at Duck Valley on the night of February 12, 1979; Churchill and Vander Wall, Agents, pp. 361-4. A summary of the conclusions reached at the 1982 Summit – signed by Vernon Bellecourt, among numerous others – was prepared as an AIM internal document (copy on file).
133. Statements and testimony of Bob Robideau. Paul DeMain (“Sovereignty”) has attempted to rework this to mean that Churchill used the books to spin a “slow developing plot in footnotes and statements by [Bob] Robideau and others to plant the murder of Anna Mae Aquash on Vernon Bellecourt’s doorstep.” For Robideau’s response, see “An Open Letter.” Actually, Vernon Bellecourt’s name appears only once in Agents (at p. 119, as a cofounder of Denver AIM) and not at all in COINTELPRO Papers. In both books, the badjacketing which led up to Aquash’s execution is attributed to FBI infiltrator Douglass Durham. This is also true of Churchill’s relevant essays, especially “Who Killed Anna Mae?” Z Magazine, Dec. 1988; “Death Squads in America: Confessions of a Government Terrorist,” Yale Journal of Law and Liberation , No. 3, Fall 1992; and “The Bloody Wake of Alcatraz: Political Repression of the American Indian Movement,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol. 18, No. 4, 1994.
135. Bellecourt never discontinued the brandishing of titles to which he held no legitimate claim, e.g.: in a cover blurb for Bruce Johansen’s and Roberto Maestas’ Wasi’chu: The Continuing Indian Wars (New York: Monthly Review, 1979) he identifies himself as “Executive Director, American Indian Movement.” An example of such misrepresentation is Bellecourt placing himself into a group shot of veterans at the 20th anniversary Wounded Knee Memorial conducted at the Manderson, SD, school gymnasium in February 1993 (see the Rapid City Journal, March 1, 1993).
136. In his resume, Bellecourt contends the arrest was for “conspiracy” and that charges were “dropped in 1975 for lack of evidence.” Be that as it may, the closest he came to direct participation in the Wounded Knee siege was to oversee a supply base established at Crow Dog’s Paradise, on the Rosebud Reservation, eighty miles away.
138. The money was provided in used, unmarked $20 bills carried into the BIA building in brown paper bags by Nixon aids Leonard Garment and Frank Carlucci. The cash was taken from the Republican Party’s Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP), which later secretly reimbursed itself from federal funds earmarked for an Indian antipoverty program; Means, White Men, p. 235.
140. The loss of these funds has generally been attributed to FBI infiltrator Douglass Durham; see, e.g., Matthiessen, In the Spirit, p. 123; Churchill and Vander Wall, Agents, p. 221; Johanna Brand, The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash (Toronto: Lorimer, 1978) pp. 98-9. Russell Means, however, points out that both Bellecourt and Haney also had access to the account from which the funds disappeared; Means, White Men, p. 301. This is consistent with the reasons stated in Dennis Banks’ 1975 letter expelling Haney from AIM: “Through careful investigation, we have found that Michael Haney has misappropriated, extorted through devious methods under the name of AIM -moneys, funds and donations for personal use [by] passing bad checks, forging signatures, impersonating others to obtain travel privileges, misrepresenting himself as an AIM speaker to obtain funds, intercepting and misappropriating donations and funds, theft of records, files and an AIM deposit endorsement with rubber stamp, tampering with postal mail, and spreading malicious rumors.”
141. Both Clyde and Vernon were among the “Wounded Knee Leadership” – the others were Russell Means, Dennis Banks, Pedro Bissonette – indicted by a federal grand jury in June 1973. While everyone else was eventually tried, and all but Bissonette, Means and Banks convicted (Bissonette was murdered on October 17, 1973, and never went to trial; the case against Banks and Means was dismissed in 1974 because of gross government misconduct), charges were dropped against the Bellecourts because of “lack of evidence.” Ted Means and Banks ultimately went to prison on charges arising from the 1972 Custer County Courthouse confrontation; Russell Means for criminal syndicalism; Herb Powless for parole violation; Phyllis Young, Madonna Gilbert and Lorelei Means were tried for conspiracy; John Trudell was sentenced for contempt, and so on. Vernon Bellecourt, on the other hand, lists in his resume five separate criminal indictments in which charges were dropped before trial (these include Custer and Wounded Knee). With respect to a sixth indictment, accruing from a 1974 confrontation in a Sioux Falls, SD courtroom (the melée which resulted in Russell Mean’s imprisonment), charges were dismissed by the trial judge despite the fact that Bellecourt had been captured on videotape committing the very acts of which he was accused.
142. Durham, along with Paul Smith, IITC’s director of communications, resigned their positions in 1979, mainly as a protest of the manner in which Bellecourt and others were subverting the movement; see “An Open Letter on Recent Developments in the American Indian Movement/International Indian Treaty Council (1981),” in Jimmie Durham, A Certain Lack of Coherence: Writings on Art and Cultural Politics (London: Kala, 1993) pp. 46-56. In recent years, Bellecourt’s primary attack dog with respect to Durham has been David Bradley.
144. The account comes from several interviews with residents of Tasbapauni made by independent Albuquerque journalist Bob Martin in 1986 and introduced as videotaped depositions during the AIM tribunal (copy of tape on file). The accuracy of their stories was confirmed in 1994 by the Miskito leadership, including Brooklyn Rivera and Armstrong Wiggins (correspondence on file).
145. By the late 1980s, IITC was still claiming to “represent” the 98 indigenous nations Jimmie Durham had pulled together under its mantle before resigning. Most, however, had by then separated themselves with prejudice, and were either self representing or had aligned with other organizations. A classic example is that of the Treaty 6 Chiefs in Canada who not only participated in but partially funded IITC until 1986. They pulled out in that year after their representative was ordered not to make a statement in behalf of the indigenous peoples of Mexico because to do so would “upset IITC’s relationship with the Mexican government.” An effort by an IITC delegation to patch things up with Treaty 6 failed miserably when Antonio Gonzales, one of the organization’s Bellecourt ordained “new leadership,” offered a marijuana cigarette to an elder. Similar stories abound.
146. Vernon’s fees ranged from $1,000 to $2,500 per speaking engagement, and he was doing an average of five per month during this period by his own count; interview on radio station KOA (Denver), Mar. 2, 1986 (tape on file).
148. IITC delegates Ward Churchill and Bill Simmons met with Sandinista defense minister Tomás Borgé Martinez in Havana, Cuba, in December 1984 to discuss the Atlantic Coast situation. Borgé was emphatic that MISURASATA was not CIA funded or connected. The Sandinista leader then repeated this assertion during his plenary address of the international conference all parties were attending. In print media, se, e.g., “Atlantic Coast Autonomy: What are ethnic groups asking for?” Barricada Internacional, Oct. 31, 1985.
149. The prelude to this treatment came in a November 22, 1985, story for The Militant by Fred Feldman entitled “U.S. Indian leaders:’Hands off Nicaragua’,” in which Vernon’s pronouncements of solidarity with the Sandinistas are the only native statements quoted.
150. According to several insiders, this sort of sectarian bias played heavily in The Guardian’s increasing erosion in readership and demise during the early ’90s. It is noteworthy that about a year before the end, after having literally frozen his name out of print for several years, the Guardian staff suddenly contacted Churchill, asking that he become a regular contributor in order to try and revive its subscription base. He agreed, publishing several short pieces-at no charge-before the final collapse; see, e.g., Ward Churchill, “A Trail of Cherokee Tears,” Nov. 2, 1988; “Thanksgiving: A Day of Morning?” Nov. 22, 1988; and “Unmasking the Custer Myth,” Dec. 21, 1988.
152. The letter, signed by Clyde H. Bellecourt as “Chief Executive Officer, American Indian Movement,” is dated Nov. 13, 1985 (copy on file). For press response, see, e.g., Feldman, “U.S. Indian leaders”; “Russell Means’ position on Nicaragua does not reflect AIM, Bellecourt says,” Minneapolis Star and Tribune, November 14, 1985; Michael Perlstein, “Bellecourts say Means no longer an AIM member,” Rapid City Journal, Nov. 19, 1985.
155. One documented example of Gonzales spreading such disinformation regards Bobby Castillo, then international spokesperson for Leonard Peltier. Gonzales’ actions led to cancellation of a speaking tour of England and Scotland on Peltier’s behalf; correspondence from Barnie Cox, director of the North American Indian Association, Glasgow, Nov. 14, 1994 (copy on file).
156. In attendance were Dennis Banks, Russell Means, Joe and Vivian Locust, Ward Churchill, Glenn Morris, Aaron Two Elk, Bob Robideau, Nilak Butler, Slow Turtle (a Wampanoag leader from Cape Cod), Roberto Cruz (IITC), Arizona AIM leader Lenny Foster. Mainly, the participants agreed that an AIM general membership meeting was essential. The Bellecourts’ boycott blocked this from occurring; see “A Call for the Reconstitution of the American Indian Movement” (internal movement document prepared and distributed by Colorado AIM; copy on file).
157. KOA interview; interview on radio station KGNU, Boulder (tape on file); the speech itself is summarized in “Black-led New Alliance Party in Solidarity with the American Indian Movement,” The National Alliance, Mar. 14, 1986.
159. Bellecourt attempted his maneuver in the absence of Means, Morris and Churchill from the IITC’s 11th Annual Conference, conducted at Big Mountain in June 1986. He was blocked by Leonard Crow Dog, acting for the traditional elders. In their 1993 expulsion letters, Churchill and Morris are accused of being irresponsible for having missed the meeting. However, in “An Open Letter to All American Indian Movement (AIM) Coordinators” dated April 2, 1986 (copy on file), the elders of the Big Mountain Dineh had stated they were aware of the “conflicts and disagreements” afflicting the AIM leadership, and asked that these be resolved before anyone came to their land. Colorado AIM honored their request. Vernon and his pals ignored it.
160. IITC incorporation documents are unavailable. Although the interpretation here is radically different, the facts of the organization’s incorporation and its timing derive from recorded remarks of current IITC Executive Director Andrea Carmen during a telephone interview by Bob Robideau on Dec. 9, 1994 (copy on file). As concerns manipulation of its so-called advisory board, witness the fact that IITC continued-and in some instances still continues-to describe Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu as being a member of that body more than two years after she resigned.
161. Bellecourt was arrested along with five others, all of them white Twin Cities area “radicals” who subsequently pleaded guilty, after selling 2,000 hits of LSD to an undercover DEA agent. He was in possession of marijuana and cocaine at the time of his arrest, and there was considerable evidence of longterm, largescale drug peddling. His plea bargain, reducing the nine counts he was facing to one, resulted in a five year federal prison sentence after a group of white clergymen testified as to his character and community service accomplishments. He served a mere twenty two months before being released to immediately resume his posturing as preeminent AIM political/spiritual leader and role model for the youth of his community; Vizenor, Manifest Manners, pp. 155-62.
162. During the tribunal, testimony was received from various witnesses on these matters, most poignantly from a tearful fourteen year old girl who recounted how Clyde and her own father (one of Bellecourt’s lieutenants) had recently provided drugs to her eleven year old brother. Literally every Ojibwe News article cited thus far provides details; also see Joe Geshick, “Bellecourts up to old tricks in trying to snuff out Tribunal press reports,” Ojibwe News, April 8, 1994.
163. See, e.g., The New Alliance, all issues, 1987-88; Alexander Freidrich, “Parties ignore minorities, candidate says,” Atlanta Constitution , Aug. 23, 1987; Brian Mattmiller, “Indian leader says minorities left out of political process,” Southern Illinoisan, Nov. 18, 1987; press release by Fulani campaign, “Native American Leader Bellecourt Endorse Independent Candidate Fulani,” Sept. 8, 1987 (copy on file); undated Fulani campaign promo, “Vernon Bellecourt: The Indian Leader Who Tells The Story of The Unfairness of America” (copy on file). Interestingly, Bellecourt does not include this among the “achievements” enumerated in his resumé.
164. For Lawrence’s Advocate reportage, see, e.g., “The New Alliance Party: Fred Newman’s Cult,” June 6-12, 1985; “New Alliance Party history requires careful review,” June 7-13, 1985; “How the NAP functions,” July 4-10, 1985; “A needed history lesson for Carter on the NAP,” July 31-Aug. 6, 1986; “NAP history, Parts II,” Aug. 7-13, 1986; “NAP sponsors liar’s derby,” Sept., 4-10, 1986. Also see Tisdale’s reportage, e.g., “The New Alliance Party merits close scrutiny,” May 16-22, 1985; “Community activists claim New Alliance Party-s tactics are disorganizing Black and white grassroots groups throughout Mississippi,” May 23-29, 1985; “Serrette: Why I left the New Alliance Party,” May 23-29, 1985; “New Alliance Party Attacks Tisdale,” June 6-12, 1986; “NAP against Dowdy,” Dec. 12-18, 1985; “Alliance tactics not new,” May 15 21, 1986. For the record, Newman was a member of LaRouche’s protofascist National Council of Labor Caucuses-which he described as the “hegemonic party of the left”-until leaving in 1974 to become a “leader” in his own right. He went on to “build his own political cult, the New Alliance Party, which through the years has mimicked LaRouche’s tactics to an uncanny degree”; Dennis King, Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism (New York: Doubleday, 1989), p. 30. Also see “Interview with Daniel Stern reveals New Alliance Party history,” Jackson Advocate, Jan. 23-29, 1986.
166. On the origin of claims that Lawrence was a “government agent,” see “A new smear campaign is launched by the New Alliance Party,” Jackson Advocate , Dec. 12 18, 1985. It should be noted that Lawrence, a lifelong left activist who had backed the Bellecourt faction’s posture on Nicaragua, was so distraught over Vernon’s performance in this case that he abandoned radical politics altogether.
167. Letter from Charles Tisdale to the Confederated AIM Tribunal, March 14, 1994 (copy on file); Lenora B. Fulani Committee for Fair Elections Record of Receipts and Expenditures (C00215988), April 20, 1988 (copy on file).
168. Ken Lawrence, letter to Ward Churchill, Aug. 8, 1988 (copy on file). Ken Lawrence, “New Alliance Party continues to lie about past,” Jackson Advocate, (date obscured) 1988; “‘Rule or Ruin’ Characterizes New Alliance Party’s Work in Electoral Politics,” The Guardian, Oct. 19, 1988; Fulani: Heir to an Ugly Party History,” The Guardian, Oct. 26, 1988.
169. Ironically, it was IITC delegates Ward Churchill and Dace Means who opened up the organization’s “Libya connection” by attending an international conference at Gar Unis University in Benghazi in April 1983. “We met with Qadaffi and several of his ministers,” Churchill recalls, “but our position was that we wanted nothing from them, no money, no guns, nothing. Vernon Bellecourt went bananas when he heard that, I guess, because a year later he was there, wagging his tail, with his hand out. And he’s been going ever since.”
170. The context was that of a major conference of North American indigenous peoples in Tripoli Bellecourt had organized at Qadaffi’s behest (and with his financial support). A substantial contingent of Chicanos had been invited, but, during the conference itself, it was decided that they not “real” indigenous people and should therefore be excluded from participation in certain events. The issue set in motion a major conflict within the U.S. delegation as a whole, with many Indians siding with the Chicanos. Most astonishing, this was shortly before NAIMI began to attack Churchill, Bobby Castillo and others for “destroying Indian/Chicano unity”; deposition of former IITC delegate Michael Lane (who was there), Feb. 14, 1994 (copy on file).
171. “Vernon Bellecourt jailed in Virginia,” Rapid City Journal, Sept. 24, 1988; “Indian activist jailed for refusing to testify,” The Guardian , Oct. 5, 1988; Joyce Chediac, “After hunger strike, Bellecourt, Brown moved to New York City jail,” Worker’s World, Oct. 27, 1988.
172. The award was announced in a press communiqué entitled “Attribution of the Kadhafi International Prize 1991 for Human Rights,” emanating from Libya on June 19, 1991 (copy on file): “For the third consecutive time, the awarding ceremony of the Kadhafi International Human Rights Prize, took place at Tripoli on 8, 9, 10th June. Prize 1991, has been attributed to the Amerindian Nation as recognition of its struggle for rights for freedom and development after 500 years of oppression.”
173. According to Bellecourt’s sister in law, Ruth Denny, who accompanied him on the trip to receive the award, “the $250,000 collected from Khadafy will be used to start up a foundation to finance native struggles… a fund for all Indian nations”; Howard Goldenthal, “Khadafy Connections,” Now Magazine, July 4 10, 1991.
174. Letter from R. Dafflon of the Comité populaire international pour le Prix Khadafi des Droits de l’Homme (Geneva) to the LPDC, dated June 19th, 1991 (copy on file). The same kind of thing happened-or didn’t happen-with regard to League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations (LISN): “We had a thing with Vernon over the Qadaffi money also, because way back [in 1991] a portion of it was supposed to go to LISN. The proposal went in. Everything was done and nothing came of it. Billy [Tayac] had words with Vernon over it”; transcription of taped conversation with Shirley Tayac, Summer 1993 (copy on file).
175. “Dorothy St. Marks started to question the thousands of dollars missing from the Heart of the Earth School and Clyde told her to shut up about it. He started calling her an agent and got her chased out of town”; Sheppo, Deposition. Prior to the convening of the AIM tribunal, the idea that the money never changed hands was forcefully advanced in Vernon’s behalf by Bob Brown, an official of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party. One problem with Brown’s defense of Bellecourt is that, while he was a part of the U.S. delegation in 1988, he was serving a prison sentence in North America on a credit card fraud conviction at the time the 1991 award was made. He was thus in no position to know whether Vernon received all the cash, some of the cash, or no cash at all; see the letter from Bob Brown to Russell Means and Ward Churchill, dated March 4, 1994, and published under the heady “The AIM Paper Wars” in News From Indian Country, Mid June 1994.
177. Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1994). As in Newton’s case with respect to Oakland blacks, the Minneapolis Indian community has been placed in the position of trying desperately to overcome Bellecourt’s degeneration in order to establish some sort of viable progressive organizational momentum; see, e.g. Kathleen Messinger, “Messinger announces ‘Party’s Over’ for Bellecourt and Fairbanks,” Ojibwe News, Feb. 19, 1993; Delvin Cree, “It’s time to move on,” Ojibwe News, Mar. 9, 1993; “Native American Coalition for Civil Rights formed,” Ojibwe News, Mar. 9, 1993.
180. See, e.g., Jo Durden-Smith, Who Killed George Jackson (Knoff, 1976); Brian Glick, War at Home (South End, 1989); Churchill and Vander Wall, Agents and The COINTELPRO Papers ; Robert Justin Goldstein, Political Repression in Modern America, 1870 to the Present (Cambridge/New York: Schenkman/Two Continents, 1978); Cathy Perkus, ed. COINTELPRO: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom (New York: Monad, 1975). “You have to be able to recognize and understand phenomena like National AIM Inc. and respond to them on the basis of a consistent set of principles. The internal difficulties of a decentralized movement like AIM in dealing with the authoritarian impulses of those clustered around the National Office is representative of a much larger trend in the progressive movement in general, reflected in the April 1996 incident in Chicago. I mean, really, here you have someone styling herself as an antiauthoritarian, on the one hand, while taking instructions from a self-ordained Central Committee on the other. And she apparently sees no contradiction. She might benefit from reading about Stalinism so that maybe she could tell the difference. It’s absurd. What I call the “Duh Factor” is pretty pronounced in this case, but it’s hardly unique. On the contrary, you see the same thing everywhere you look. We have a population conditioned to believe it doesn’t have to work to attain critical consciousness, that it can understand things on the basis of a few media sound bites and sentiments passed along in popular music lyrics. Well, the sound bites you get on Pacifica are okay, and there’s nothing wrong with a lot of the pop sentiments I hear, from Sinead O’Connor to Tupac Shakur. But these should serve to provoke the desire for a deeper, fuller knowledge base, not as a surrogate for it. Relying on prepackaged answers to questions you haven’t even asked yet precludes your ability to think critically. What that spells is i-g-n-o-r-a-n-c-e, and ignorance is the breeding ground of sectarian dogmatism and authoritarianism”; Churchill, Interview.