March 17th update

March 18, 2009

Another fantastic update from Ken Bonetti. (Ken appends coverage from Race to the Bottom and the Daily Camera to these emails, but I’m cutting ’em as you can find those links on the sidebar. Just so’s you know.)

Hi again,

The Daily Camera and Race to the Bottom, a blog by Denver University faculty and students, have decent reports on the Wesson testimony.  The Camera has more on the testimony of two Native history experts.  Race to the Bottom contains an interesting examination of the jury and the lawyers’ techniques and can be found at  I included both blog entries, starting with Race to the Bottom. 

Professor Wesson finished her cross-examination denying any relevant bias in her leadership of the investigating committee.   Responding to CU attorney O’Rourke’s questions Wesson provided more detail concerning the process of examining Professor Churchill’s alleged transgressions with examples of some. Regarding the minutia of footnoting and attribution, Wesson claimed that Professor Churchill’s attribution methods were at fault, not necessarily his conclusions. Race to the Bottom reports that Wesson discussed the allegation that Churchill cited other pieces he allegedly wrote, attached a different author’s name and then cited in later works, in effect citing himself.  Wesson said the committee thought Churchill blamed everyone but himself for errors.  She called Churchill a “tragic figure” where “so much potential has been wasted.” Ouch!

The blogs do not mention the confidentiality debate except that in response to at question from the jury Wesson claimed the release of the investigative report was “required” by the Colorado Open Records Act.  Perhaps there will be more on that later.

Professors Suni Cho and Michael Yellowbird both made the same important point.  There was no Native History expert on the investigating committee, making it hard to interpret Churchill’s writing and attributions.  Dr. Yellowbird said that debates attending scholarly writing are best pursued in academia rather than in a courtroom, implying that the presence of experts on the committee might have kept the Churchill controversy out of court–and, I might surmise, on campus rightly focused on his speech-protected yet highly contentious 9/11 essay.  

Dr. Cho agreed that research misconduct is a no-no, but said much depended on the interpretation of what appear to be somewhat nebulous standards. She said there is a lot of “elasticity” when it comes to judging academic misconduct.  Yellowbird said Churchill’s interpretation of the 1837 Mandan smallpox incident is more consistent with Native oral tradition than white versions, which he said usually “blame the Indian”.  Dr. Yellowbird characterized Native oral tradition as often without attribution due to it’s high regard within the Native community and the fact it was passed on in unwritten form.  As a member of the three Mandan-affilliated tribe, Yellowbird had heard the same version related by Churchill that is now a point of contention.  He said one version of Mandan blamed two mixed blood prostitutes and a mixed blood thief for the spread of the disease.  In my research, I found a version that said the Mandan epidemic originated with an infected sailor who rode up the Missouri River on a trading boat and became exposed to the Natives.  All these versions are arguably plausible.  Hence it seems the various versions should be fodder for open academic debate, not the subject of a wrongful termination suit.  



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