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The state of Illinois is named for the Illini tribes of Native Americans who previously inhabited the state. It is not surprising, therefore, the state university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, would celebrate an Illini chief. And that is exactly what happened in 1926, 81 years ago, when Chief Illiniwek first became the proud and noble symbol of the University of Illinois' athletic programs.
The Chief predates the more modern, often cartoonish, notion of "mascots" for sports teams. Chief Illiniwek does not parade the sidelines, cheer for the team, interact with fans or cheerleaders and only appears at home games. Chief Illiniwek wears Lakota (Sioux) regalia sold to the University by Chief Frank Fools Crow (nephew of Black Elk who was the second cousin of Crazy Horse) which was sewn by Fools Crow's wife. Chief Illiniwek's limited performance consists of a half-time appearance in which he undertakes a dance performed for generations based on the Indian fancy dance, the worst complaint of critics being that it includes an unauthentic jump-split. Chief Illiniwek performs empty-handed without tomahawks, spears or other stereotypical Indian props.
Of course, there are people who can find offense in everything and, as always, there's plenty of sufferers of white liberal guilt who will put aside logic and reason and use force and coercion in order to instill their values and sensibilities on others. And so, at the behest of individuals and organizations whose protests appeared to grow more out of self-promotion than actual offense, the NCAA stepped in to declare Chief Illiniwek "hostile and abusive." The NCAA included the University of Illinois in the group of other universities which it declared "display hostile or abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery." The current sanction prohibits such schools from hosting post-season athletic tournaments at the cost of millions of dollars of lost income as well as the publicity and notoriety that comes with such tournaments.
I had originally written that "the NCAA had to walk a fine, if illogical, line with the banning of Chief Illiniwek since a ban of the use of the Illini name would result in banning the name of the state of Illinois as well." However, further research reveals that the NCAA, is devoid of any semblance of logic and did, in fact, originally ban "Illini" and "Fighting Illini." This decision came from their headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Only after two rounds of appeals did the NCAA relent and limit the ban to only the Chief Illiniwek name, symbol and performance. The NCAA's stated rationale...don't try to understand it, just read it...was that "Illini" was based on the name of the state and not of Native American descent. And, if you can make sense of this rationale, you're as irrational and disingenuous as the NCAA. Where do they think "Illinois" came from?!?!
A 2002 Peter Harris Research Group poll of those who declared Native American ethnicity on a U.S. census showed that 81% of Native Americans support the use of Indian nicknames in high school and college sports, and 83% of Native Americans support the use of Indian mascots and symbols in professional sports.
In a non-binding student referendum on Chief Illiniwek conducted in March 2004, Of the approximately one third of the University of Illinois student body who cast ballots, 69% of the voters favored retention of the Chief.
The Illini tribe was nearly wiped out by fighting with other Indian tribes (you don't hear too much about those kind of things from your liberal history professors) and what remained was eventually relocated to Oklahoma as part of the Peoria Tribe. In 1995, Chief Don Giles of the Peoria Tribe said, "To say that we are anything but proud to have these portrayals would be completely wrong. We are proud. We're proud that the University of Illinois, the flagship university of the state, a seat of learning, is drawing on that background of our having been there. And what more honor could they pay us?" Peoria tribal elder, Ron Froman, stated at the time that the protesters "don't speak for all Native Americans, and certainly not us." In 2000, Froman became chief and he and the tribal counsel came out against Chief Illiniwek. As part of the rationale for his 180 degree turn, Forman shared such pearls of wisdom as, "I don't think it was to honor us, because, hell, they ran our (butts) out of Illinois."
Adam Fortunate Eagle, grandfather of the radical Indian movement, known for his attempts to reclaim Alcatraz on behalf of Indians of all tribes, his protests against Columbus Day celebrations and his self-proclaimed discovery of Italy, declared that symbols like the Chief gave him heart amid the generally negative images of American Indians.
Myself, I attended the University of Illinois from 1984 to 1989 and never heard anyone...not once...speak against Chief Illiniwek or treat him as anything other than a very positive and powerful symbol of strength and valor which we were all very proud to have as the symbol of our school.
The NCAA originally included the Florida State mascot, Chief Osceola, in the list of colleges that "display hostile or abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery." This wasn't surprising given the inclusion of Chief Illiniwek who never carries any props let alone instruments of war while Chief Osceola, while riding an Appaloosa horse named Renegade, plants a flaming spear at midfield to begin every home football game. Chief Osceola's face-paint, Appaloosa horse and flaming spear have no connection to Seminole history nor is FSU's version of Chief Osceola steeped in history having only first appeared in 1978. Despite the obviously offensive imagery...I mean, come on, really, a flaming spear?!?!...the NCAA eventually changed its position on Chief Osceola allowing him to remain the spear-chucking mascot of FSU.
So why the different treatment of the University of Illinois and Florida State University? The NCAA, with a surprisingly straight face, says that it is because the FSU crazed blood-thirsty mascot has the approval of the local Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida. The NCAA stated, "The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not agree."
On first blush namesake discretion sounds fair, but it doesn't explain how an institution is to react when, as with Chief Illiniwek, a tribe changes its position. It is ridiculous to expect an institution's use of a symbol to come and go with the different decisions of each newly elected chief or tribal counsel. Further, such a policy caters to the easily and/or irrationally offended and provides no support for legitimate reverent use of a symbol by an institution against groups that would attempt to hold such imagery hostage by claiming a proprietary right. That which is right does not ebb and flow with opinion...unless you are a liberal, then that is actually the definition of right. Namesake discretion also does not address the case where there are no true namesakes to be offended such as the Illini which no longer exist and are only loosely associated with the Oklahoma Peoria Tribe or where two tribes with different opinions vie for namesake standing.
The latter is the case where the Oklahoma Seminole Tribe is less approving of the FSU mascot. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act through Congress and, in the ensuing wars, the Seminoles and numerous other tribes were marched to Oklahoma during the infamous Trail of Tears. An estimated 200 to 500 Seminoles escaped into the Florida Everglades, where some of their descendants remain. One could argue the primary Seminole tribe is located in Oklahoma, while the smaller Florida Seminole Tribe is merely an offshoot. Further, Osceola despised American expansion into Florida and when he died in American custody, his head was chopped off as a trophy. Does the NCAA really think that Osceola would want to be portrayed as a state university mascot wearing war paint which he and other Seminoles never wore, riding a breed of horse he never rode while performing for a bunch of affluent white kids?
So why the unequal treatment of the University of Illinois' respected and dignified Chief Illiniwek and the Florida State University Chief Osceola? The answer is provided by the NCAA itself which cites to the "close relationship" between FSU and the Florida Seminole Tribe. Close relationship? So, the administration and tribal counsel go out drinking together and have each other over for family barbeques? No, you know the answer already...money. Florida Seminole tribal members get an automatic 80% scholarship from the school which, when combined with other assistance, almost guarantees a full free ride at the university. Additionally, the school has a broad array of other programs and interactions which, together, only the most jaded (or observant) would describe as having bought off the Florida Seminoles. This brings to light the University of Illinois' real problem, not a "hostile and abusive" symbol but rather...no one to pay off or, alternatively, a failure to pay off a distant tribe two states away.
And don't even get me started on the Fighting Irish or the scores of other institutions of higher learning with symbols and mascots of identifiable groups who just don't seem bothered by a wacky caricature of their namesake. How can the Irish and, apparently the NCAA, take pride in a mascot which mocks the brawling drunk Irish stereotype while others find offense in an earnest attempt to honor an extinct Indian tribe?
Lest anyone be confused, I am not arguing that Florida State University should get rid of their mascot. On the contrary, I think the NCAA should keep their white liberal guilt noses out of the affairs of the universities. It should be up to the individual schools, their students, faculty, administration, alumni, and governing bodies to establish the individual policies of each school without punitive measures forced on them from afar. The whole thing just reeks of everything that's wrong with liberalism: kowtowing to special interest groups who proclaim irrational victimization, ignoring time honored traditions, governing bodies going far beyond their stated purpose to issue social edicts, governance from afar rather than locally and unequal treatment of different groups.
In recognition of the financial realities of the NCAA's sanctions, the University of Illinois capitulated and this week on Wednesday, February 21, 2007, Chief Illiniwek made his last appearance at Assembly Hall in Champaign-Urbana. At the end of this post, I will put links to noteworthy articles, clips and downloads of video of Chief Illiniwek's last dance and other topical information. Additionally, in memory and in honor of Chief Illiniwek, I have permanently added the random Chief Illini picture to the left-hand column.
Finally, please remember that I take strong offense at anyone who disagrees with me in the comments. In fact, I consider any such disagreement "hostile and abusive" and, as modern liberalism has taught us, you are not allowed to tell me that my being offended is irrational, unjustified or otherwise contrived for ulterior purposes. In other words, if I say I am offended you must change your conduct, otherwise you are a hate mongering bigot.
Honor the Chief website.
Champaign, Illinois, CBS affiliate WCIA video of Chief Illiniwek's Last Dance, 10MB QuickTime (.mov), please right-click and "Save As...."
YouTube page of Chief Illiniwek's Last Dance videos.
Illinois Loyalty - Chief Illiniwek's Last Dance photo collection.
DumpEppley.com website dedicated to ousting the President of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees for his role in banning the Chief.
Students for Chief Illiniwek website.Posted by Don |
Listed below are links to blogs that reference this post: Chief Illiniwek - Last Dance.
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