Driving Miss McIntosh

Marjorie K. McintoshDENVER- At first the testimony from a CU committee member who voted to dismiss Ward Churchill seemed utterly damning. Dr. Marjorie McIntosh, retired Distinguished Professor of history, gave her testimony by video because she would be lecturing in England at the time of the Churchill v CU trial. She came across like a wise elder, her scolding kind and maternal. She had me convinced that Ward should be sent to his room, but for an indelible pallor that began to infect her testimony as the retired professor grew tired under scrutiny. And like the history of 14th Century England which was her specialization, it became inescapably evident that Marjorie McIntosh was very, very white.

At face value, Dr. McIntosh’s quiet authoritative demeanor seemed beyond reproach, expressing as she did her support for Ward Churchill’s right to speak. McIntosh described how her father was a dean at U of M who reputedly stood up to Senator McCarthy. She explained her initial reluctance to be party to a Right Wing attempt to “get” Professor Churchill. At first Ms. McIntosh seemed as earnest as your own grandmother, if your grandmother was also a well spoken distinguished academic.

But the cracks in Ms. McIntosh’s maternal concern showed themselves even before the plaintiff’s cross-examination. When Professor McIntosh described herself as “fair and impartial,” it was in contrast, she offered, to Professor Churchill for example, who she understands may not be impartial or neutral.

Partiality
Under cross-examination McIntosh went further. To paraphrase: “Professor Curchill is not a trained historian, he has an MA, he is a scholar who writes on historical subjects. He presents himself as a specialist, but he does not have that training.”

By contrast we are meant to infer, McIntosh is a Distinguished Professor, rewarded for having had a “national impact” on scholarship, and having produced work which has “directed” consequential research.

Questioned about the significance of tenure, McIntosh described the rigorous qualifications which she met. But with a smile she would not vouch for a uniformity of high standards at CU, since, obviously… She held her tongue as if too polite to say it: Ward Churchill was a glaring example of the opposite.

A second indication of Dr. McIntosh’s personal bias might be suggested by how she characterized committee chairwoman Mimi Wesson’s perceived personal agenda: Did she detect any bias on the committee, in particular with Wesson? McIntosh saw no evidence of bias, and she thought Wesson treated Professor Churchill with great respect, both in his presence and after. McIntosh was impressed by Wesson’s professionalism.

Another of McIntosh’s responses hints at a further insincerity. She and her SCRUM colleagues were tasked with investigating one allegation each made against Churchill. McIntosh was “foot soldier” for the Madan Indian Ft Clark episode. Discrepancies in Churchill’s account had been brought to the university’s attention by Arizona professor Lavall, a rival of Churchill’s in the American Indian Movement. McIntosh was asked whether she knew that Lavall’s allegations had been raised six years before being addressed by her committee. Perhaps to dodge the accusation that the timing of their inquest was more related to Churchill’s 9/11 essay, McIntosh replied that she did not know. After of course, delivering the findings of what she presented as an exhaustive review of all available evidence.

Allegation A
Allegation A held that Churchill falsified an account of the 1837 small pox outbreak in North Dakota. McIntosh was charged with verifying Churchill’s claims (1) that small pox was deliberately spread by the US Army using blankets, (2) that said blankets were dispensed from a St Louis small pox infirmary, (3) that the infected Indians were ordered to scatter, (4) that a vaccination was deliberately kept from the indians, and (5) that the dead numbered upwards 400,000.

According to Lavall and the CU committee, Churchill was held to have been negligent in citing sources. While Churchill countered that his accounts came from oral tradition, much of it commonly known, McIntosh encountered none.

While McIntosh concedes that she does shares no heritage with Native Americans, to perhaps have grown up with oral accounts, but she argues that Churchill is similarly neither from the tribal lines from which he would have heard Mandan stories.

Did you give Professor Churchill the benefit of the doubt? Dr. McIntosh was asked?

“I would say we gave him a great big benefit of the doubt” McIntosh replied. Her research found no oral tradition of small pox evidence. “We could have stopped there and found him guilty of fabrication and falsification.” Instead the committee magnanimously contacted Churchill to ask for further evidence. They were surprised when he produced conflicting sources. Most surprising, McIntosh condescended, was not getting a straight-forward answer from Professor Churchill.

McIntosh summarized the generally accepted narrative of the 1837 epidemic: Every summer a fur trading company working along the Missouri River, sent a steamship north from St Louis, to the fortified trading posts lying along the river, at their furthest, 2000 miles north. Only once a year, the “Saint Peter” steamed upriver with trading goods to exchange for furs and hides, and with “annuities” which were gifts for Indian tribes who had signed a treaty with the government. A week into the 1837 voyage, one passenger was showing signs of an illness but the captain decided against forcing a disembarkation. By two weeks, everyone on the boat had contracted what was by then undeniably a small pox outbreak. As each of these travelers got off at the trading posts, small pox spread from every stop. The Mandan Indians lived 300 miles north of Ft Union, the furthest point of the steamboat. At least 90% of their number were killed. That much is undisputed.

About involvement of US soldiers, blankets, an infirmary, a vaccination withheld, and an order to scatter, Ms. McIntosh found absolutely no proof. She conceded that some accounts hint that the outbreak was intentional, a couple of accounts mention blankets. On this point the committee agreed the thesis could have been justified. But St Louis newspaper archives reveal no trace of an infirmary nor of a small pox outbreak. There were no medical records kept at the trading posts, nor even any medical staff. Etc.

And as to Churchill’s numbers… “Churchill cites 100,000, then 125,000, then 250,00 and now as many as 400,000.” Churchill attributes the figures to “as Professor Thornton suggests.” But according to McIntosh, Thornton never gave any numbers.

Disputing the numbers, the means, the details, reminds me of another pattern of denial.

Holocaust Denial
Is this not the very basis of Holocaust Denial? A perpetrator culture, commits a genocide, then quibbles with accusers by pointing to the paucity of evidence. It’s a mobster’s strategem. Leave no witnesses and there’s no one to tie you to a crime. A massacre thoroughly executed leaves no trace. History is written by the victors. The master narrative, in Western Heritage, has always had a white master.

Do I liken McIntosh to Jessica Tandy’s role in Driving Miss Daisy? If Tandy had quietly not transformed, but instead held tenaciously to her condescending racism. I would be loath to offend those courageous souls who labor to get to the truth about recorded history, but Holocaust Denial is about repudiating mankind’s evil deeds. Where evidence is sparse, because the perpetrators covered their tracks, others come along to cast doubt on the original crime. The details matter less than the crime. Here we have white man’s genocide against the Native Americans. All the details are in dispute. Held together, they deny the whole of what we can plainly see as the truth.

Asked if she was acquainted with Critical Race Theory, McIntosh replied she wasn’t. She professed uncertainty about even the tenure process for Ethnics Studies. She feels those kind of studies are emotional and partisan. Enlish history has debate too, but less resonance in people’s current lives.

Academic disciplines
Dr. McIntosh became combative when challenged about her proficiency with history from taken from oral tradition. In her later scholarship, Ms. McIntosh worked in contemporary Ugandan women’s studies. Oral sources build African history, but not in English history, where archival history preempts oral sources. We are left to question if McIntosh can reconcile how to incorporate oral accounts not from the present.

Was she coming at this subject with a bias? No, she’d never heard of the Mandan small pox epidemic.

Did anyone put pressure on her, to arrive at her findings? “In the first place, it didn’t occur to me that anyone would put pressure on me.” In discussing her apprehension about joining committee, Mcintosh “did not think the University would be critical of me.”

Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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1 Response to Driving Miss McIntosh

  1. Avatar jonah says:

    History, Subjective? NEVER!!!

    It’s kind of like Our Young Friend with his contention that America and ONLY America won World War 1.

    As to one’s tribal affiliations preventing one from knowing about the history of another tribe, where did she dig that bullshit up?

    Hasn’t she ever heard of the pow-wow?

    Maybe she hasn’t come to Territory Days here and listened to different Tribal Historians telling the stories of their own tribes?

    I mean, hell, I know stories from Hopi sources, Mandan, Brule, the Dog Soldiers, Uta, from the Iroquois Confederacy, what the hell does she mean Churchill couldn’t have possibly heard the history of other tribes?

    She’s British and teaches in America, perhaps she’s noticed the difference in Witness Perspective between the British narrative of what to them was a backwater engagement which neither side won, just an episode in the much larger Napoleonic Wars, but in America it’s celebrated as somehow “bringing John Bull to his knees, by Gawd!”

    But a white person couldn’t know about Indian history, an Indian couldn’t possibly know White history or even history of other tribes.

    Has her committee voted to disenfranchise and dismiss any professors who taught that Kuwait was “freed” in 1991 or that there were WMDs in Iraq?

    Talk about your basic well documented Fabrications.

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