Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | April 10, 2007

Puh-lease: BIA, half-quote criticism, eyewitness accounts

The ongoing saga of the Amah Mutsun Indian tribe has me rolling my eyes, shaking my head and uttering a dramatic, two-syllable “Puh-lease.”

One faction of this deeply divided tribe, led by Irenne Zwierlein, is seeking federal recognition of its sovereignty and has a development agreement with the owner of Sargent Ranch, Wayne Pierce.

Located just south of Gilroy, the 3,500-acre ranch has been the subject of failed development plans. Santa Clara County officials indicated they would look unfavorably on any development plans for that site.

A deal with a sovereign nation would allow Pierce, who has mortgaged the property to the tune of $30 million, to avoid county review of any Sargent Ranch development plans.

Another faction of the tribe, led by Valentin Lopez, accused Zwierlein of forging documents that seem to give her the title of tribal chairwoman.

That’s enough to set my head shaking, but it’s old news. What’s new is that the Inspector General determined that documents Zwierlein submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs were forged.

Does that mean that the now BIA disregards documents submitted by Zwierlein?

Incredibly, no.

“Even at this point, though the IG report said that Ms. Zwierlein tampered with documents that were submitted, the Office of Federal Acknowledgment continues to accept documents submitted from Ms. Zwierlein, because she’s still stating that she’s the leader of this group,” BIA spokesman Gary Garrison said.

Puh-lease. Why does Zwierlein have any credibility with the BIA?

Perhaps I’m just impatient. Maybe in a decade or so, the BIA will decide it can’t trust Zwierlein’s documents. After all, this is the agency that takes a quarter of a century to process sovereignty applications.


It appears I’ve boggled fellow columnist Cynthia Walker’s mind.

How? By quoting Buddha’s advice to use reason to evaluate assertions.

Walker wrote, “… Ms. Pampuch is quoting an authority who says not to believe what the authorities say. Mind boggling.”

Puh-lease, that’s only half of Buddha’s advice that I included in my column.

What’s truly mind boggling is that in an attempt to make her trumped-up point, Walker ignored the crucial last half of Buddha’s advice, which, paraphrased, is to accept assertions only after using reason to analyze them and finding them to be credible.

But Walker’s head-shakingly unfair Buddha misrepresentation wasn’t the only thing in her column that had me rolling my eyes. By endorsing eyewitness accounts and subsequently equating them to “good authority,” she produced the same effect.

Eyewitness testimony is extremely fallible.

Here’s what The Innocence Project reports:

“Thirty years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; it neither records events exactly as it sees them, nor recalls events like a tape recorder that has been rewound.”

The group, which uses DNA testing to free wrongfully convicted people, offers these statistics:

  • DNA testing has freed 198 wrongly convicted people in the U.S.
  • The average person freed by DNA testing spent 12 years incarcerated
  • More than than 75 percent of those cases involved eyewitness misidentification

One remedy, according to a recent American Psychological Association “Monitor” article on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, is to “… employ a scientific model to collect, analyze and interpret eyewitness evidence.”

That sounds a lot like Buddha’s advice.

Thus, it’s reasonable to be suspicious of the eyewitness testimony featured in the Swift Boat ads attacking Sen. John Kerry during his 2004 presidential campaign.

According to the nonpartisan group (part of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center), critics featured in Swift Boat ads were not on Kerry’s boat. Men who served on Kerry’s boat contradict their allegations, as do Navy records.

Here’s what Sen. John McCain, who supported George Bush in the 2004 race, told the Associated Press about the Swift Boat campaign: “I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. … I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam.”

Heeding Buddha’s advice, “after observation and analysis,” I find that Navy records and the testimony of veterans who were on Kerry’s boat are credible, and the testimony of partisans who were not is not credible.

So much for Walker’s eye-roll inducing “ad hominen” charge against me.

Whether it’s tribal leadership documents, political ads or newspaper columns, investigation and analysis to determine credibility are crucial.

It really isn’t mind-boggling: Don’t believe claims just because someone says they’re true, even claims Walker makes, even claims I make. Critically evaluate them for yourself.



  1. Just out of curiosity, what is so wrong with Zwierlein claim? And what would make it “OK” for to be the chairwomen? What exactly did she forged?


  2. Follow the link to the Gilroy Dispatch story that I provided in the posting (click the word “saga”) or cut and paste the URL from here:

  3. […] a problem that I’ve written about before and one that the Innocent Project’s work highlights with sickening […]

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