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The long sad tale of Chief Illiniwek

So this week the University of Illinois finally dumped Chief Illiniwek as it's mascot. Though I usually don't care about the issue of the use of Indian mascots by sports teams, I'm glad to see this happen. Mostly because it was becoming a pain to have to listen to it all the time.

I've always thought people on both sides put way too much emphasis on something that seems to me a minor issue. If we want to focus attention on important Indian issues, how about we spend some time on the abject poverty of many of the reservations and reserves and try to help those folks climb out of the extreme lower class?

And I'm OK with the general intent of the NCAA decision to ban the "hostile and abusive" Indian mascots. Especially when schools like the Florida State with it's Seminole mascot were able to keep their symbols because the Seminole Tribe of Florida passed a resolution to support the school and it's use of the Chief Osceola mascot.

But the University of Illinois at Champaign did not recieve the backing of the Illiniwek tribes now located in Oklahoma. In fact they have come out against the University using the Illini name and Chief Illiniwek symbol. The people complaining loudest about the NCAA ruling keep saying they are honoring the Illini Indians with their use of the mascot.I have a hard time with that statement. Because the Chief Illiniwek mascot is basically a caricature based on very broad stereotypes of Indians in general. Hey, Indians wear feathered headresses and buckskins so lets have our mascot wear a fake feathered headress and buckskins (whether or not it's historically accurate regalia for woodland tribes or not). The Illiniwek costume used by the U of I is based on Sioux regalia. Hey, Indians dance around a lot so lets have our chief dance around a lot at sports events. The dance done by the "Chief" at sporting events stems from supposed Indian Dance steps from a Boy Scout dance competition several decades ago. Hey, Indians act reverently at times so lets have our mascot hold his hands up as if calling on the "Great Spirit". The dance and the costume are both based on Oglala Sioux traditions. In January,the Oglala Sioux Council passed a resolution and asked the U of I to cease the use of the symbol and return the costume to the family of Frank Fools Crow from whom they obtained the costume originally.

The Illiniwek were a confederation of tribes that covered most of the upper Mississipi Valley before the coming of European settlers and the Indian removal period. They included the Peoria (which is where the name of the city comes from), Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Tamaroa, Moingwena and Michigamea. They are now living in Oklahoma as the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. The Peoria leadership have come out publicly asking the University not to use the name or the symbol saying things like "I don't know what the origination was, or what the reason was for the university to create Chief Illiniwek. I don't think it was to honor us, because, hell, they ran our (butts) out of Illinois." And more recently the Chief of the Peoria said, "the Chief was not representative of our tribe and culture, mainly because the costume is Sioux."

My feelings on this are if the people you claim to be honoring ask you not to use the symbol, then you shouldn't in all fairness be using it. How can you still claim to be honoring someone if they keep telling you its offensive and ask you repeatedly to stop?

My former college, Adams State had the name "Indians" for all their sports teams and in 1996 at the urging of Indian students and the NCAA (they are an NCAA Division II school), they changed their name to the Grizzlies.

My former High School still has the Indian mascot though. I portrayed the mascot for three years when I was in high school. I don't think I had a feeling on it one way or another back then as long as it helped me meet girls. At least I did some research into the type of costuming I was wearing and refused to do any sort of dancing. Knowing what I do now though, I wouldn't support the use of a costumed Indian mascot for that team.

Now I'm just hoping all the U of I controversy will just die down and if students and alumni there truly wish to honor the Indians who formerly inhabited that area that they would work with the Peoria tribe to come up with a mascot that they would support as the Seminole and a few other tribes have done.




( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 23rd, 2007 03:08 am (UTC)
At my high school, our mascot was a Mohegan, but we never had a costumed person, just a picture on the wall or on pennants or whatever (not cartoonish or anything). Every five years or so there are calls to get rid of him, but nothing ever goes anywhere. I can see where having somebody in costume dancing around would be offensive. I think it's the better choice that they got rid of the chief.
Feb. 23rd, 2007 04:53 am (UTC)
for me the key is if the people you claim to represent are in favor or not. and clearly here they are not.

Feb. 23rd, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC)
I'm all for such continued controversy on the college level. It draws attention away from the fact that my high school (located in Ohio, oddly enough) still holds the nickname "the Rebels," has a Confederate soldier as mascot, and displays the Confederate battle flag at sporting events. *impish grin*
Feb. 24th, 2007 02:02 am (UTC)
That is odd that it's in Ohio. I was pretty upset when states started taking the Confederate elements out of the state flags.

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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