Chief supporters select new portrayer

Chief supporters select new portrayer

Chief Illiniwek no longer officially represents the University of Illinois, but his supporters have chosen a new student to portray the Chief for several more years.

UI freshman Ivan Dozier of Ivesdale was appointed this week to succeed Logan Ponce as the Chief portrayer at various events, including future "Next Dance" performances at the Assembly Hall. Katie Birkel was named assistant chief.

Ponce, who was the official assistant chief when the university retired Chief Illiniwek in 2007, will graduate in May.

Dozier, who said he is half Cherokee, said he hopes to educate people across campus about American Indian culture and perhaps bridge some of the gaps between Chief supporters and opponents.

Ultimately, he'd like to see the Chief returned as the UI symbol.

"I'm a very laid-back person, open-minded. I like to hear what other people have to say. My personal belief is I don't see anything wrong with the Chief," said Dozier, who was also named vice president of Students for Chief Illiniwek.

Tryouts for the new Chief were held last week in Gibson City. Ponce, his assistant and a former Chief portrayer chose Dozier over four other candidates.

The last official appearance of Chief Illiniwek, by former student Dan Maloney, was on Feb. 21, 2007, at a men's basketball game at the Assembly Hall. A month later, the UI Board of Trustees voted to end the use of American Indian imagery, effectively retiring Chief Illiniwek.

Ponce was chosen the following year as the unofficial Chief by former students who had portrayed the Chief. They had a replica of the original costume made.

Since then, former Chiefs and Ponce have appeared at various public events, including a Chief Illiniwek festival in Gibson City, Honor the Chief Society dinners and the "Next Dance" performances at the Assembly Hall in fall 2008 and 2009. Fans also frequently invoke the university's former symbol by calling out "Chief" at sporting events.

The 2008 "Next Dance" drew 10,000 fans, but last fall's crowd was much smaller. Organizers complained that administrators worked behind the scenes to force the group to schedule it for a nonfootball weekend. The group obtained e-mails through the Freedom of Information Act in which administrators made disparaging remarks about Chief supporters.

Dozier said Students for Chief Illiniwek hopes to visit high schools across the state to educate students about the Chief tradition and American Indian culture.

A crop sciences major, Dozier, 19, is from southern Illinois but moved to the Ivesdale area seven years ago and attended Monticello High School. His mom, Michele Dozier, is a teacher, and his father, Ivan Dozier, a member of the Cherokee tribe, is assistant state conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

He said his family has a strong family connection to the UI. His father, uncles and several cousins all attended the university, and he's been an Illini fan his whole life.

"We grew up with the tradition of the Chief. That was just such a strong symbol of the university," he said. "If I'm going to support the university, I'm going to support the Chief. I wanted to do everything I could to keep the tradition alive."