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Feb 23 2007

Chief Illiniwek - Last Dance


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.

126illini.gifThe 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."

636-fortunate-eagle.jpgAdam 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 [Updated Link] 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.

637-fighting-irish.gifAnd 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.

Chief Illiniwek Educational Foundation website.

Chief Illiniwek Photo Collection blog.

Posted by Don |


  1. #1
    Bob said on March 15, 2007 | Reply

    I totally agree. The NCAA was arbitary and caprious in the decisions of which can mascot/symbo stay and which can go. As far as I am concerned the NCAA is after a few schools, and unfortunately Illinois is one of them.

    The University of North Dakota has a pending lawsuit and frankly I hope they bring the NCAA to their knees.

  2. #2
    Judy said on June 22, 2007 | Reply

    I feel the all organizations should follow the MAJORITY opinion, not a few rich liberals that allow their money to force issues.
    My Grandfather was a medicine man for the Mohawk community in St. Regis. I am proud of my joint heritage .. I am Mohawk and Irish. I believe all the strength of my forefathers have helped us be stronger individuals. I have taught my children the same.
    My children attend school in Patchogue; a school district which USED to use an Native Warrior as their logo. BUT it was considered racist.
    I went to school in Wantagh, were we were called the Wantagh Warriors. They too deleted the Native Chief as their logo. It was considered racist!
    We should be proud of our Country's heritage! we should pay homage to ALL those individuals AND groups of individuals that make up the fabric of this Country.

  3. #3
    Jim Hinkle said on November 22, 2007 | Reply

    I agree whole heartedly with your position on Chief Illiniwek. I attended the U of I and the Chief was one of the highlights of attending football games there. There is just one thing that bothers me about your article, and that is the constant use of the word "liberal". Can't we just discuss issues without labeling those who disagree as those hated "liberals"? You are implying that all liberals would want to get rid of Chief Illiniwek, which is ridiculous. I am a liberal on some issues, conservative on others. On the issue of Chief Illiniwek, I agree with you ONE HUNDRED PERCENT! Don't use the issue of Chief Illiniwek as a platform for your rant against liberals.

  4. #4
    Don said on November 29, 2007 | Reply


    I am very glad we can agree on the Chief. However, as to your question:

    "Can't we just discuss issues without labeling those who disagree as those hated "liberals"?"

    I would say, yes, if the source of the disagreement wasn't based on or a direct result of "liberalism." However, as I tried to point out in the post, getting rid of the Chief was pure classic liberalism run amok for multiple reasons.

    Perhaps I should have been clearer, I use liberalism and liberals pretty much interchangeably. Of course, no one liberal ascribes to all liberal ideologies. To the extent I implied otherwise, I was wrong.

    I researched the post pretty well and read a lot of material that I didn't include and while I certainly don't know the precise political leanings of all those involved, I don't recall reading about any conservatives involved in the decision to axe the Chief, at least none that weren't blackmailed by the NCAA into going along with the decision. If you know of a conservative involved in axing the Chief, feel free to post your information. Otherwise, I’ll still blame those damn liberals…I mean liberalism.

  5. #5
    Bridey said on December 14, 2007 | Reply

    You make a lot of very interesting points, and you have clearly researched the topic thoroughly. There is a fuzzy double standard which the NCAA chooses to employ, and I admit that, although I fall into the realm of people discontent with the use of Native mascots, I too don't quite understand their logic.

    In the case of "Chief Illiniwek," I would not be so bold as to use the words "hostile" or "abusive." Indeed, in illustration, the "Chief" looks nothing short of noble. The word I use when viewing real-life images, however, is "unsettling."

    For the last two years I have had the privilege of traveling with my best friend and his brothers to their family home on the Osage reservation in Oklahoma for days of dancing, feasting, and celebration. I have been able to help him dress in his regalia to prepare for the dances. Everything he wears has a meaning, tribal or personal, and is deeply-rooted in a vibrant history.

    And so when I see a white man of decidedly European descent dressed in similar regalia as my friend and his brothers, mimicking a tradition of which he has no part, I am unsettled. However noble they might appear, however empowering it might seem to be, the use of Native mascots is anything but. We (I use the word as a member of European America) have hijacked the image of indigenous people and used it with our own biases for our own purposes. We have made a spectacle of Native culture. And as relatively authentic as the Pine Ridge Reservation regalia and fancy dance-inspired performance may be, neither does anything to make the mascot's performance less questionable.

    The "Chief" you display above is used for performance. He rallies crowds to prepare them for competition. He doesn't stand up at halftime to represent a team or school that is peaceful, or wise, or even Native American, but rather one that is ready to fight--to wage war on the athletic field. I am not being illogical or liberal. I do not object to Native mascots to spare anyone's feelings. I am pointing out how we continue to objectify Native culture, minimizing a history that predates our presence on this continent to a single, war-like caricature.

    Sadly, that is not the only history we choose to ignore. Consider the emblematic 1926 half-time show in which William Penn (who likely never met a member of the Illinois tribe) and "Chief Illiniwek" gallivanted around the field hand in hand. What was omitted from this symbolic show of European-Native cooperation? Chief Froman's light-hearted justification of his opposition to Native mascots reflects a restlessness with the much deeper fact of the forced relocation and genocide of indigenous people. If you question the use of such a strong word, I implore you to take a closer look at American history. There's a chapter we tend to disregard.

    Please, correct me if there is something I don't know about the use of "Chief Illiniwek," but if this mascot is like most others, it is used to mobilize in the name of competition, not to portray an accurate representation of culture or history.

    Again, I agree with your assessment of the NCAA's hypocrisy. You're "Chief" isn't the only or worst of ethnic representations. And again, I don't think that "Chief Illinwek" portrays Native people in a particularly negative light. But sport culture in the United States has enabled a continuation of historical ignorance which is only reinforced by such boiled-down images of Native Americans. If you are so moved to explore other positions on the issue, I have found C. Richard King and Charles Fruehling Springwood's "Beyond the Cheers: Race as a Spectacle in College Sports" to be particularly enlightening from a sociological perspective.


  6. #6
    Stephanie said on December 20, 2007 | Reply

    I can't agree with you more. Several of your points, such as the NCAA ignoring the blatantly stereotyped Fighting Irish leprechaun have been in the back of my mind. I am 1/8 Irish and, though not offended by the mascot (after all, it's just for fun-- the Chief is serious), very easily could be if any college mascot could. One of our local high schools were the "Chinks," but that has long since changed. Any profane racial slur (such as the N word, Chink, or Pollack) I could understand changing, but this is not the case with the University of Illinois. One day I looked on Wikipedia to see how many of the state names were derived from American Indian words or tribal names. I think there were maybe two or three that were not (New York, New Jersey, etc.). Our country owes a lot to the Native Americans, and if we can't undo our past mistakes as a nation, the least we can give them is an honorable memory. Honestly, who would remember the Illini if not for the Chief? He inspired me to research this native people who, without the physical representation through the Chief, however inaccurate, would have remained unknown to me.

    I was just accepted into the University of Illinois a few days ago and, with both parents, almost all of my aunts and uncles, and my two brothers having attended the University, I have longed to attend for many years. However, when I heard that there would no longer be a Chief, I almost changed my mind in protest, but realized that if nobody else will restore the Chief to his proper place, the students must take a stand against these oppressive forces. I hope to do what I can-- maybe join one of the many student groups dedicated to saving the Chief by bringing him back. I was lucky enough to see a football game two years ago and the respect shown to the Chief nearly brought me to tears, since I knew that it might be the first and last time I would see him. Then this past year when I went to my second game, the number of students, alumni, and other supporters crying out for the Chief during the Three-in-One (Keep it up, band!) was emotionally overwhelming. He is not mocked, nor is he mocking, yet he was ruthlessly torn from his place on the field. Any factual inaccuracies in the portrayal of the Illini, if they cause so much distress to the Peorians (of Oklahoma, not the city of), should be corrected as seems fitting. I hope you have written the NCAA because you seem to have the facts needed to back your very valid arguments. Thank you for seeing sense. Now if only the NCAA could.

  7. #7
    Charles said on January 1, 2009 | Reply

    I agree with a good bit of what is on your site, but I have an objection to this article... In regards to Chief Osceola of FSU, it's not just rich white kids and the NCAA that approve of him. The Seminole tribe here in Florida gave FSU their blessing back in the sixties or seventies when the tradition started. The university and the tribe have had a long history together. The tribe's support has somewhat kept Florida State out of the controversy. That’s just my two cents. Oh and fight, fight, fight for FSU!!! :)

  8. #8
    Jeff Kessock said on January 7, 2009 | Reply

    I appreciated the research and thorough explanation. The attention to details while appreciated may have been a bit mismatched. #1 - Chief Osceola is a revered figure whom was always portrayed with some degree of creative license. Tell me you know for a fact what color the tie was John Wilkes Booth wore the day he shot Lincoln? You probably couldn't. How about Jackson's hair color when he was a teenager? Nobody can say for sure. Now we look at the attire of Osceola, and whether War Paint or an Appaloosa horse were used. This is a theatrical effect. When you remake a character, and follow it's historical context to the "T" you tend to lose a bit of dramatic impact.

    Now far be it from me to argue money is a motivator, but these same Seminoles have no problem taking from me at their casinos located across the world. You don't hear Londoners complaining about any issues surrounding the lack of accurate 'look and feel' of the original Hard Rock (which ironically is now owned by -- you guessed it - the Florida Seminole Tribe...) It has been mentioned in some small detail that there is a lot of tradition tying the school to the tribe. It is also a fact that those same Seminoles in Oklahoma don't disfavor the FSU brand, the standing Chief just doesn't condone the actions as representative of his history. He is one man among a few hundred within his tribe.

    Chief Illiniwek on the other hand represents some grossly extrapolated and loosely interpreted manifestations of MULTIPLE Illinois tribesmen. The tribes were the Kaskaskia, the Cahokia, the Peoria, the Tamaroa, Moingwena, Michigamea, Albiui, Amonokoa, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, "Coiracoentanon," Espeminkia, Maroa, Matchinkoa, Michibousa, Negawichi, and Tapouara. Now if you found one hero to symbolize ONE tribe, you may have a legitimate comparison with Osceola. Until that time, you have a funny white kid dancing on a basketball court with blackface on. This is not exactly creative license as described prior. The ceremonial attire worn by Chief Osceola is actually CREATED by a small group of women within the Florida Seminole tribe. In addition, there were actual feathers in Chief Osceola's headdress - not a gaudy cartoon headpiece like Illiniwek wears.

    Lastly, and perhaps least of all -- the Seminole tribe of Florida is not the TRUE RECOGNIZED tribe of Florida?!? Come on. That's like saying a U.S. Citizen who is a decendant of a person who escaped slavery in Africa is not a real African-American. It's silly. Of COURSE they're the real Seminole tribe of Florida, they BOTH are! Should FSU or any other school use racial imagery? Only if it is portrayed in an acceptable way that meets with the approval of the people it represents. If even one person disagrees - perhaps it shouldn't. Maybe I'll protest the unnecessary suffering of parents who have lost their children to vicious alligator attacks, because the University of Florida does a 'Gator Chomp' or maybe it's cruelty to animals to have a bulldog sitting on the sideline in the heat or blistering cold for hours. Poor Uga!

    Thanks for reading.

  9. #9
    Wanda Danz said on January 19, 2009 | Reply

    Hello Danz Family

    We are the Danz Family in Indiana, All the Danz's in Indianapolis Ind are related. They come from a Casper Danz married to Catherine. My Husband
    is Steven Danz his parents was Frank Danz married to Mamie. Is there any Chance you are related. They came over from Germany , Black Forest Area.

    My Husband is just starting to Work on his Geneology .

  10. #10
    Kara said on December 3, 2009 | Reply

    Wow. Football Mascots? Really? Get over it. It's not the end of the world. I promise. Do something better with your time and do the world a favor, please.

  11. #11
    Talking Bird said on March 5, 2010 | Reply

    Note: The United States and the Seminole People have never signed a peace treaty. Therefore, the display of weapons and postures of combat are authentic. The dressing of an alleged Illinois aboriginal (Canadians have it down -- aboriginal, not "Native Canadians) in a Lakota outfit is neither authentic nor justifiable.

  12. #12
    Craig Montegue said on November 25, 2010 | Reply

    I am a UofI Alumni and former financial contributor to the general fund. That stopped the day the university allowed itself to be co-opted by the leftist do gooders and holier than tho morons like Kessock who preach do as I say not as I do.
    Unfortunately, it will stay this way until the chief is reinstalled to his rightful position within the university.

  13. #13
    Anonymous said on August 27, 2014 | Reply

    I actually attend Florida State University and we have a contract with the Seminole tribe. They dictate what our mascot wears and every move and gesture he makes. The Seminole Indians designed the war paint and robe attire that Chief Osceola wears. We have a contract with their tribe and our communities are very dependent on each other. Their tribe loves the support and recognition that Florida State has brought to them, and their villages have Florida State chairs, cups, clothing, and what not. Their tribe must also approve our logo as well. The NCAA is not giving us special treatment, we can just prove that we are not stereotyping but representing, and we have completed all necessary regulations by the NCAA in order to use the Seminoles as our logo.

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