CHAMPAIGN — The head of the Peoria tribe says he doesn't support a proposal from former Chief Illiniwek portrayers to bring back the Chief in a limited way, because the idea lacks the University of Illinois' backing.
"Without endorsement of the university, the tribe is not willing to participate," said John Froman, chief of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma on Tuesday morning.
Froman, who has been chief of the 3,000-member tribe since 2001, said he has informed former Chief portrayers that "this is purely a University of Illinois decision, that if the university was supportive, the tribe would be willing to have some discussions."
Members of the Council of Chiefs, a group of UI alumni who once danced to the "Three-In-One" music in front of Illini fans, have submitted a plan to campus leaders that asks for the university to restore parts of the tradition. It calls for twice-a-year, on-field appearances, for a two-year trial basis.
Froman said the new portrayal was described to him by the Council of Chiefs as "one that would be a respectful portrayal of the Peoria culture and obviously it was not the previous Chief. The previous Chief was not in any way representative of Peoria culture," he said, adding that the Peoria and Illini confederacy were Woodland Indians, not Plains Indians and the Chief's outfit was representative of a Plains Indian.
"Bringing back the Chief is not a way of respecting the Native American culture," Froman said.
The Council of Chiefs proposal calls for a Chief portrayer to appear on the field of two campus events in a year. There would be no dancing involved, and the costume would be developed by the group in consultation with the Peoria Tribe, according to the group.
"We felt the tradition still had value to alumni, students and the community," said Steve Raquel, president of the Council of Chiefs, which has trained university students in aspects of the tradition despite the university's official retirement of Chief Illiniwek six years ago.
"We've been working to come up with something that made sense, something that we felt was a win-win for the university, for alumni and for students," Raquel said.
He called the proposal a "three-legged-stool" and said it's contingent on the group receiving the tribe's approval, not to mention the university's.
But Froman pointed out Tuesday, "two legs are out."
Wise said she told Council of Chiefs members, with whom she met in April, she would not endorse a return of the Chief to any university-sponsored event. She has said Chief Illiniwek is part of the school's history, not its future.
"I'm seeking to find ways that we can memorialize and respect the (UI's) past history and culture that included the Chief while we focus on the future. And bringing back the Chief is not in the future," she told The News-Gazette.
The UI Board of Trustees officially voted in March 2007 to end Chief Illiniwek's dance and the use of the Chief or any Native American imagery for the university or its athletic programs. The NCAA had previously prohibited the UI from hosting postseason tournaments as long as it used Native American imagery.
Schools can use Native American imagery if they have the tribe's OK, as with the case of Florida State University's relationship with the Seminole tribe.
Raquel said the group was not seeking to restore Chief Illiniwek's status as the official symbol of the university but it wanted to "bring him back to the field."
Froman said there has been no vote by its membership on the proposal.
"My discussion with Chancellor Wise has focused on education of students on what is a true representation of Native cultures," he said, adding that he supports her work on ensuring that all cultures are respected on college campuses.
"We will continue working with Chancellor Wise. We have great respect for her primary focus on where the university is going in the future, and not in the past," Froman said.
Wise traveled to Oklahoma earlier this spring to meet with tribal members, including Froman, to talk about establishing a better relationship with the tribe and how that could lead to greater success of students from the tribe coming to the UI, she said. Wise said the tribe's goals of education and bettering the environment overlap with those of the university.
"What I would like to do is ... work together on a regular basis instead of a sporadic basis," said Wise, who said she envisions an annual summit with UI and Peoria officials. She wants to see more effort in scholarships, mentoring and advising programs for students who come to Illinois from the Peoria tribe or other Native American tribes.
Wise also said she welcomes advice and support from the Council of Chiefs in that area. As part of its proposal, the council said it could raise money, perhaps up to $200,000 a year, for both the university and tribe.
Later this month, Wise said, she and other members of her staff will visit with officials from Miami University to learn about its Myaamia Center, a joint project by the university and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.