Newest Chief waits to hear his fate
URBANA – The University of Illinois has chosen a new Chief Illiniwek, but will he ever perform on campus? Could he be the last Chief Illiniwek?
With a month to go before the next UI board of trustees meeting, the university is still officially mum on the fate of the school's 80-year-old symbol.
Since the NCAA barred the UI from hosting postseason competitions so long as Chief Illiniwek is the UI's symbol, administrators and trustees have been working behind the scenes with members of both sides of the issue to come up with a solution.
Just last week, several former Chief Illiniweks met with university officials and, last month, two trustees traveled to Utah to gather input from American Indians, The News-Gazette has learned.
Arriving at a "consensus solution," which trustees agreed to do two years ago, hasn't exactly been easy, said Trustee David Dorris of LeRoy. Dorris visited Utah with fellow trustee Frances Carroll. The two wanted to hear what members of different American Indian tribes had to say about the subject and what possible solutions they could offer, Dorris said.
"The strategy to find a solution to this problem continues," said Dorris, who added that there is no current solution on the table.
He called Chief Illiniwek an "all-consuming" issue, but on the bright side, "we have the right people working on it," he said.
Tom Livingston, who was Chief Illiniwek from 1988 to 1989, acknowledged that he and other former Chiefs have met with senior officials of the university throughout the years. But he declined to talk specifics about the meeting last week.
"Things are at a sensitive point. Nothing has been set yet," he said. "It's one of those situations where we're still in the early stages of figuring out various concepts and ideas," he said.
Livingston did say he and other former Chief Illiniweks are in support of keeping the Chief as is.
"Former Chiefs feel very strongly about the positive aspects of Chief Illiniwek," he said.
Steve Raquel of Naperville, who performed as the Chief in 1990, called last Monday's meeting between former Chiefs and UI officials an "informal" one. He also declined to comment on its agenda but said the meeting was part of "a continuing dialogue on how to make sure the tradition moves forward."
The new Chief Illiniwek, Dan Maloney of Galesburg, declined an interview with The News-Gazette. Maloney was assistant Chief Illiniwek during the 2005-06 school year.
The Chief's first public performance has traditionally been at the first home football game in Memorial Stadium. This year it will be on Sept. 2.
"I do know there's a serious attempt to continue the consensus process," said Roger Huddleston, co-founder of the Honor The Chief Society. "I don't think we'll know anything until the July (board of trustees) meeting. Until then, everything is really up in the air," he said.
The university has made no decision or set any timetables to discontinue or alter Chief Illiniwek, said Tom Hardy, executive director of university relations. Hardy declined to comment on any recent meeting among former Chiefs and university officials.
"As part of the consensus process, members of the board of trustees and the current and former presidents over the years have met on numerous occasions with individuals and groups advocating certain positions and possible ways to resolve the issue," Hardy said.
"The bottom line is, the University of Illinois remains in noncompliance with the policy and the board consensus process continues to move forward," he said.
The NCAA last August issued the policy prohibiting postseason competition at colleges or universities with "hostile or abusive" racial, ethnic or national origin mascots or symbols. The UI was one of 18 schools included on the list.
The UI appealed the NCAA's decision to include the UI on the list and has stated that the university should resolve the issue itself. The NCAA issued its final ruling in April.
As for opponents of Chief Illiniwek, they hope the university heeds NCAA statements.
"Like the NCAA has stated, we should hope trustees discontinue Chief Illiniwek in name, performance and symbol," said John McKinn, assistant director of academic programs at the Native American House on campus. McKinn, who is a Maricopa Indian and member of the Gila River Indian Community of Arizona, said he wishes trustees and administrators would seek insight from American Indians in Illinois, rather than traveling elsewhere.
"Indians who live in this community have rarely been invited to talk to administrators and trustees," he said.
McKinn added: "Use of this mascot is not a trivial matter. It teaches all that stereotyping of minority groups is acceptable."
In response to the NCAA's final ruling, U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert introduced legislation that proposes to limit the NCAA's ability to apply any sanctions on colleges or universities because of team name, symbol, emblem or mascot. It would allow the UI to sue the NCAA and seek damages for lost revenue if barred from hosting a championship game.
Since Johnson and Hastert introduced the bill in May, several more co-sponsors have added their names, and the legislation itself was sent to the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness. Johnson would like to hold hearings on the issue this summer, said Phil Bloomer, Johnson's spokesman.
Meanwhile, Huddleston and other Chief backers launched a new Web site, www.stopncaa.com to rally support for the legislation.