University of Illinois + Racism

Chief Illiniwek was eliminated at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Richard Herman, the Chancellor of UIUC, apparently did not get the memo about the end of the Chief’s racist reign.

Dave Zirin of Sports Illustrated writes about the unbelievably awful resurrection of the chief.

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Gibson City’s silent majority

silent majority silenced by one person with a megaphone?

Sometimes my posts practically write themselves… I read an article on how one town in Illinois is refusing to give up Chief Illiniwek.

According to the News Gazette:

Gibson City officials started an “Honor the Chief” day in 2005, when controversy over the University of Illinois athletic teams’ mascot was at a peak.

Translation: Gibson City created an event that makes money for the town. The event is fueled by racism which has proven to be highly flammable and profitable.

Continue reading Gibson City’s silent majority

Racism as treasured tradition

While searching for the identity of a racist, homophobic, pro-chief hate e-mailer, I came across this gem of a statement from the University of Illinois Alumni Association’s President:

Statement from UIAA President Loren R. Taylor

The University of Illinois Alumni Association is supportive of the Board of Trustees in light of its difficult decision concerning the Chief Illiniwek tradition. We recognize the board’s responsibility to act in what it believes to be the best interests of the University as a whole. At the same time, we respect the emotional impact this announcement is having on the alumni and friends who treasure this longtime University tradition. Illinois loyalty has never been constricted to one issue or dependent on any one activity, and, as a community, I believe we will emerge from this period stronger, closer and more committed to our shared fundamental values.

Loren R. Taylor
President and CEO
University of Illinois Alumni Association

Translation: The University of Illinois Alumni Association respects the longtime racist tradition of chief illiniwek at UIUC and is sorry for the emotional turbulence that losing the mascot has caused to the dominant majority at UIUC. Our white privilege, racism, and othering of Native folks will continue to make us closer and more committed to our shared fundamental values.

Chief Illiniwek Will No Longer Perform

UIUC has decided to discontinue Chief Illiniwek….

Absent from the official UIUC response is any mention of the ethical reasons for eliminating the “Chief.” Labeling Chief Illiniwek as a positive tradition, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees has done little to address the racism of this “tradition.” Chief Illiniwek may be finished. However, racism, stereotyping, and oppression seem to unfortunately be going strong amongst the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. The board seems more concerned with losing money from alumni and re-gaining access to lucrative post-season collegiate athletics.

This sends a terrible message to all white students at UIUC. The University and its Board have made it clear that listening to people of color and their allies does not matter. I’ve included the full text of the press release from the University of Illinois. Nowhere in the release is it mentioned that the Chief was a racist caricature that stereotyped Native Americans.

Continue reading Chief Illiniwek Will No Longer Perform

Racism, Power and Privilege at UIUC

Racism, Power and Privilege at UIUC

The webcast of the Racism, Power and Privilege forum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is up at I Resist. The forum video is extremely powerful. It is over 2 hours in length. I highly recommend watching if you are interested in the UIUC and Chief Illiniwek.

via A Native Perspective on UIUC’s “Chief Illiniwek”

Also, check out a flash slideshow on Racism, Power and Privilege at UIUC. The folks at I Resist are doing an awesome job of documenting the anti-chief/pro-social justice movement at UIUC.

University of Illinois and Chief Illiniwek

Update #2: Debbie Reese, a faculty member at UIUC, blogs at — A Native Perspective on UIUC’s “Chief Illiniwek”. Her latest post contains an email from UIUC’s Chancellor regarding the racist Facebook group.

Update: Inside Higher Education has more information on Chief Illiniwek

I received this in my inbox yesterday…

For Immediate Release January 8, 2006

Pro-Chief Students Issue Call for Racism and Violence against American Indians at University of Illinois

As concerned citizens of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and as faculty in the university’s American Indian Studies Program and staff at the Native American House, we wish to call attention to a recent incident of university students explicitly advocating racist violence against American Indians in general and against one American Indian student in particular.

We call on the university leadership and the university community to express public and unequivocal outrage at this incident. We also call on the university authorities to initiate disciplinary proceedings.

Continue reading University of Illinois and Chief Illiniwek

Chief Illiniwek needs to be discontinued

Chief Illiniwek
I’ve been thinking a lot about my recent post regarding Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois. I published my entry and then left town for a weekend at the Oregon coast. When I returned home, there were 4 comments on my post entitled “Chief Illiniwek needs to stop dancing.” The comments were fairly lengthy and by new readers. Instead of commenting on the original post, I decided that it would be worthwhile if I created a new post with more of my thoughts/feelings/etc.

PAgent asked a great question:

Is it the fact that the Chief is typically portrayed by a white student the aspect that is offensive? Then why not say so explicitly?

I did some research on Chief Illiniwek. Apparently, Chief Illiniwek has been portrayed by non-Native American students at the University of Illinois since 1926. Chief Illiniwek is offensive because the Chief represents a stereotype. There are less than 150 Native Americans who attend the University of Illinois. Chief Illiniwek has been portrayed mostly by white men. It’s like telling the Native Americans and anyone else at the University of Illinois that inside every Native American is a white man. For more information on stereotypes, othering, and assimilation please read Suzanne Pharr’s “The Common Elements of Oppressions.” I tend to link to it a lot because I feel that it’s very useful/informative.

By the way, the Native American House at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the American Indian Studies faculty at the University of Illinois have this to say about Chief Illiniwek:

The Native American House at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides a place where students, faculty, staff, and community members may increase their knowledge and understanding of the histories of American Indian peoples and their cultures, both past and present. Part of this understanding rests on the ability to critique and set aside images that confine the perception of an entire people to a limited and narrow existence. Stereotypical images, negative or positive, are barriers to understanding and seriously miseducate the public about Native Americans. Therefore, the Native American House and American Indian Studies faculty insist that the University of Illinois Board of Trustees discontinue the use of ‘chief illiniwek’ in name, performance, and symbol.

In October of 2005, the American Psychological Association released a statement regarding the use of Native American mascots:

The American Psychological Association is calling for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations, the Association announced today.

APA’s action, approved by the Association’s Council of Representatives, is based on a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, including the particularly harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.

“The use of American Indian mascots as symbols in school and university athletic programs in particularly troubling,” says APA President, Ronald F. Levant, EdD. “Schools and universities are places of learning. These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and, too often, insulting images of American Indians. And these negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students.”
Full text of the resolution can be found at

PAgent finished his comment with this statement:

I can’t help but wonder if this is another step toward the generalization that ANY depiction of a Native North American is offensive, regardless of content or context.

How is the depiction of a Native American in any content or context different than white folks in blackface or yellowface? I am offended by Chief Illiniwek because it is racist and stereotypical. Ever since Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, things have not been good for indigenous folks. White folks have tried to exterminate and assimilate Native Americans in this country since 1492. The debate over whether or not the Chief is offensive represents another incident in which the dominant majority is trying to tell a historically oppressed group how to feel.

Michael Smith commented on the issue of political correctness:

And just how far should we go to ban the “offensive” use of native symbols in the name of political correctness?

The term political correctness or “pc” is usually brought out by a member of the dominant paradigm as a means of diluting conversations on social justice and equity. I do not feel that it is morally correct to reduce Native Americans to a racist caricature and then to dismiss the conversation by relegating it to the bowels of political correctness. I feel that we should go “all the way” when it comes to banning the use of native symbolism that is not sanctioned by native peoples. (Yes, I realize that there have been native folks who are pro-chief, please go back and read Pharr’s words on tokenism and assimilation.)

Lyn had this to say:

The court struck a blow for freedom from the tyranny of the few…I really don’t care if a white kid, green kid or whatever portrays the fictional character of Chief Illiniwek. I don’t care if the dance is too authentic or not authentic enough…It doesn’t have to measure up to all of these standards set by the aggrieved group…The idea that only the feelings of actual Native Americans should count on this issue is backassed since it is supposedly the image of Native Americans as perceived by the larger population that is at stake her. The larger population overwhelming sees the Chief as a positive figure. Let freedom of expression win.

I can’t help but laugh and cry at the same time… Yes, the tyranny of Native Americans and their allies is well documented. (Please note that sarcasm is set to ludicrous and plaid.) I usually try to approach my blog commentors with a dose of compassion and charity, but this is really stretching me. Lyn, us white folks need to sit in a room and talk about our privilege for a bit.

Whew, I have almost made it to the last commentor — Erik. Erik, please join me and Lyn in the room where we will discuss our white privilege. Bring water and food. It’s going to be a while.

In closing, I would like to urge the University of Illinois to listen to the Native American House and the faculty of the American Indian Studies Department. UIUC’s non-discrimination statement states that:

The commitment of the University of Illinois to the most fundamental principles of academic freedom, equality of opportunity, and human dignity requires that decisions involving students and employees be based on merit and be free from invidious discrimination in all its forms.

The University of Illinois will not engage in discrimination or harassment against any person because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation including gender identity, unfavorable discharge from the military or status as a protected veteran and will comply with all federal and state nondiscrimination, equal opportunity and affirmative action laws, orders and regulations. This nondiscrimination policy applies to admissions, employment, access to and treatment in the University programs and activities.

It is my hope that the University of Illinois will stop engaging in the oppression of Native Americans. I feel that the depiction and defense of Chief Illiniwek is morally reprehensible.

Chief Illiniwek needs to stop dancing

The University of Illinois needs to discontinue its use/sanctioning of racist imagery. Chief Illiniwek was given further life and validity by the 1st District Appellate Court in Chicago. The three judges voted 2-1 in favor of throwing out a lawsuit against the university.

Judge Shelvin Louise Hall cast the dissenting vote and is my new hero. Hall stated that the “Chief’s presence created a hostile environment, especially ‘in light of the number of prominent educational institutions that have voluntarily discontinued the use of Native American nicknames, symbols and mascots.'”
Judge Hall

Judge Warren Wolfson and Judge Thomas Hoffman voted to throw out the lawsuit. Hoffman claimed that “he doubted the plaintiffs could prove their discrimination claim.”
Judge WolfsonJudge Hoffman

Judges Wolfson and Hoffman, please refer to “Crimes Against Humanity” and this post by Blaxplanation.

The use of Native American imagery/symbols is unacceptable.

Appeals court sides with Chief Illiniwek

By Michael Higgins – Chicago Tribune

September 19, 2006, 5:57 PM CDT

Dances by Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois’ athletic mascot, do not violate the state’s civil rights laws, a divided state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The Illinois Native American Bar Association filed suit last year against university officials, alleging that the Chief’s performances humiliate Native American students and create a hostile environment that dissuades them from attending games or participating in other school activities.

But a trial judge threw out the lawsuit, and in a 2-1 decision Tuesday the 1st District Appellate Court in Chicago upheld that ruling.

Writing for the majority, Judge Warren Wolfson noted that in a 1996 law, the General Assembly declared the Chief to be an “honored symbol of a great university.”

If the state’s current anti-discrimination law, passed in 2003, had been meant to overturn that “glowing exaltation of Chief Illiniwek,” the state legislature would have said so explicitly, Wolfson said in a 17-page opinion.

The court’s ruling on Tuesday was one of the few pieces of good news recently for supporters of the Chief, a barefoot student in a buckskin costume and a feather headdress who performs at some athletic events.

NCAA officials have barred the university from hosting postseason tournament contests as long as the 80-year Chief Illiniwek tradition continues. The NCAA rejected the university’s appeal of that decision in April.

University officials were pleased with the appellate court’s ruling, Thomas Hardy, executive director of university relations, said Tuesday. He said the school’s trustees are studying the predicament raised by the NCAA ruling, but “no decisions have been made.”

The bar association, which sued the university and five individual plaintiffs, plans to appeal Tuesday’s ruling, said Kenneth Dobbs, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

“Every university, college and high school, except for a handful, have abandoned the use of racist Native American imagery,” Dobbs said. “It creates a hostile atmosphere. … But people tolerate it because of a misunderstanding of Native American culture.”

Judge Shelvin Louise Hall cast the dissenting vote, arguing that the plaintiffs had the right to take their case to a trial.

Hall said reasonable jurors could conclude that the Chief’s presence created a hostile environment, especially “in light of the number of prominent educational institutions that have voluntarily discontinued the use of Native American nicknames, symbols and mascots.”

But Judge Thomas Hoffman concurred with Wolfson’s opinion and went even further, saying he doubted the plaintiffs could prove their discrimination claim.

There was no evidence that the university excluded the plaintiffs from any activities or that the Chief’s performances were aimed at them personally, Hoffman wrote. He said that merely finding the Chief’s “gestures or dress … offensive” wasn’t sufficient to support a lawsuit.

@ the Chicago Tribune