UI trustees hear request on Chief Illiniwek

UI trustees hear request on Chief Illiniwek

CHICAGO — In response to a proposal from former Chief Illiniwek portrayers to create a "reinvented Chief tradition" for the Urbana campus, University of Illinois President Bob Easter said he had concerns about anything that would distract the university from other, more critical issues facing higher education.

Easter, who has been a dean, department head, faculty member and graduate student at the Urbana campus for four decades prior to becoming president, said he knows how divisive the issue of Chief Illiniwek has been for the campus.

"My overarching concern is we're dealing with some very difficult issues in higher education, and anything that distracts from our ability to focus on those critical issues is a challenge from our standpoint," he told The News-Gazette on Wednesday after a board of trustees meeting. "We're in an era of our university where we really need to pull together to create our future as an institution of higher education. That's my focus," Easter said.

Easter pointed out that it is up to the campuses to decide whether or not they choose to have a "representation." He said he views his role as president as someone who interacts between the campus and the board of trustees.

Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who was attending a conference Wednesday and not at the meeting in Chicago, does not support the return of the Chief to any university-sponsored event. She has said the Chief tradition is part of the campus's past, not its future.

After being turned down by Wise earlier this spring, the group of former portrayers decided to take their case to the UI Board of Trustees. During the public comment session of Wednesday's board meeting, Rick Legue, a UI graduate who portrayed Chief Illiniwek in 1966 and 1967, summarized his group's proposal.

"Picture a Native American, a Peoria (Tribe of Oklahoma) student, in Peoria regalia, making a walk-on appearance during the Three-in-One, all by the design of and in collaboration with the Peoria Tribe," he said.

The "reinvented" Chief Illiniwek tradition, according to Legue, is for twice-a-year, on-field appearances on a two-year trial basis. There would be no dancing but "a stationary presence" during the "Hail to the Orange song" with the Marching Illini. The Chief's appearances would be tied to fundraising activity for the Peoria tribe, the UI and Native American organizations, according to the proposal.

"Our intent is to restore the good will at the university and reunite the Illini family," Legue said.

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. When they voted to end the tradition, trustees delegated the Urbana campus chancellor to "manage the final disposition" of the matter.

James Montgomery, the only current UI trustee who was on the board when it voted to end the tradition back in 2007, said he did not support the group's proposal.

"The bottom line is that the board made, in my judgment, a good judgment in making the decision to eliminate the Chief for a number of reasons. One, to the extent that it might be viewed as insulting to folks of Indian descent and because it impairs our relationship with the NCAA," Montgomery said.

UI trustee Dr. Tim Koritz, who graduated from the UI in 1978, said he has "nothing but good memories" of Chief Illiniwek. However, he wasn't sure if consideration of the proposal was even a board issue.

"It's not clear in my mind what's best for the university," he said, adding that he thought both Legue and UI Professor Joyce Tolliver, who spoke out against bringing back any form of the Chief, raised valid points. In her remarks, Tolliver urged the board to consider the "angry debate" that occurred on campus for years and how it consumed the campus and community.

"As you weigh the request of one interest group against the finality of that 2007 board decision, I ask that you, members of the current board, keep in mind the well-being of every segment of our university community. A university symbol should be a unifying thing. There's no way the Chief can ever be anything but divisive," Tolliver said.

Tolliver said she was speaking on behalf of herself and colleague Nick Burbules, not the entire faculty or Urbana's Academic Senate. Both Tolliver and Burbules are part of the Senate Executive Committee, a group of leaders from the senate. That group last week hurriedly passed a resolution that reinforced previous statements by the senate that called on the tradition to be retired. The nonbinding resolution, drawn up in response to the former Chiefs' proposal, expressed full support for Wise's statements that Chief Illiniwek is a part of the school's past, not its future.

The university should have some kind of tradition, "something people can be proud of," but it's not the board's responsibility to decide what it should be, said UI trustee and UI graduate Patricia Brown Holmes. She suggested that the campus organize focus groups at which students and faculty can explore options and ideas for a new tradition. "Let's find a mascot that everybody can agree on, a tradition everyone can agree on, a way to move forward. That's what I'd love to see: I want to see us move forward," she said.

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Bheller wrote on June 04, 2013 at 5:06 pm


How are you now delcaring yourself a victor?  Save, well, you seemed to have declared through your statements that the debate was won before it started?

Again... logic is not followed seemingly... Though I cannot say I am perfect, I do work to operate under it..

Yes, that is exactly what has been called for.  This debate has been perpetuated by mis-information and heresay at many times...  You have not addressed the facts we have presented, and have showed an unwillingness to make any concession at all on the point.  It is either your way, or the racist way.  That is not a very healthy debate.  

I have been told by a select few individuals that "the Chief is divisive, thus we must get rid of it".

The numbers do not show a divide..  In fact, student polls have showed enough support that should the similar numbers be achieved again in congress, constitutional ammendment could be passed.  

I call to question that the issue is divisive, moreover intimidation has been heavily utilized, (in the verbal variety and in cases gradewise for students) to put forth a point of view.  

DIsucssion, or acknowledgment of others thoughts, and even giving room for compromise is not a sign of weakness.  Quite the opposite, in fact. 

I ask you for one simple, sincere concession you would be willing to make on this issue.. (Please, again sincere and as little snarky-ness as possible)


spangwurfelt wrote on June 04, 2013 at 7:06 pm

"Save, well, you seemed to have declared through your statements that the debate was won before it started?"

Actually, it was. The Chief's been gone for half a decade now, thank God, and the long national embarrassment is over. The Chief's supporters were unable to convince the NCAA that the Chief was not just exactly the racist Chief Wahoo he appears to be and was all along, and the university took the hint.

By this point, the Council of Exiled Batmans is reminding me of those stories you hear about Japanese soldiers on remote islands of the Pacific in the mid-fifties, still fighting WWII for the Empiror because nobody told them the war had been over for a decade.

I agree that there has been considerable misinformation in this debate. I started out as a Chief supporter because I bought into the misinformation. Then I looked closer. The "authentic" dance? Not authentic. The "authentic" outfit? Ooops, some other tribe. The feathers? Literally illegal. The "authentic" face paint? Get serious! And so on.

I remember when supporters of the Chief fought against admitting every one of those points, at the top of their lungs. Now they quietly admit they are all true and say "but that doesn't matter."

And then there was the on-the-fly attempt to declare that the mascot wasn't a mascot, oh no no no, it was a "symbol" - along with a lot of special pleading about how a "symbol" is different than a "mascot" because a "symbol" is a figure meant to excite the crowd at football games by dressing up as something or other while a "mascot" is a figure meant to excite the crowd at football games while dressing up as something or other. It was just a vapid, empty, rhetorical dodge. It was an excuse. It was a pretext. If you fell for it, shame on you. But in the endgame, the Chief's supporters clung to it because they knew it was the last chance to stave off the simple reality that this world has moved on from racist mascots, Chief Illiniwek included.

What would it take for me to accept a Chiefly Waiting-for-the-Bus? Let twenty years pass with a different mascot, enough to erase the embarrassing memory of the goofy little white-boy-plays-injun dance and all the other Hollywood injun stuff that goes with it. Let the Council of Batmans In Absentia do whatever the heck dance they want to do in whatever the heck Halloween costume they want to dance in - just not as a sports mascot.

Twenty years is too long? Then let's start with a written statement from the Council at Batcave Elba admitting that they were wrong, that the Chief really was a racist stereotype all along, a shabby counterpart to Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto and every minstrel in blackface, and that they're sincerely sorry they blew it so badly.

When Robert Byrd, the Senator and one-time Klansman, met incoming Senator Obama, he said: "people can change." That genuine remorse is what convinced Obama that Byrd had indeed changed, that he genuinely regretted his earlier racism. What do we have from the Chiefiness Network? Where is the "sorry"?

Tom Napier wrote on June 04, 2013 at 11:06 pm

And YOU accuse ME of excess verbiage?

Bheller wrote on June 05, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Okay, point by point now.  Lets tackle the misinformation!!! :D

1.  The feathers were never illegal, they were only eagle feathers in inital conception in the 1980's, returned to the Oglala Nation by the University.

2. None of the portrayals were stated to be truly authentic.  It is something that was started as an idea to meet the Pennslyvania mascot, a quaker, at halftime.  At that point, he rode a horse (which was retired a few years after).

3.  Mascots came into being in the late 1930's.  This predates traditional mascots and does not fullfill the tradition role of what a mascot does.  No sideline performances, limited appearances throughout time at other events, mostly though at homecoming through the mid 1970's.

4.  There has been evolution, and works to control the "brand" of sort from the early on times.  Unlicensed works were mentions, such as being on "toilet paper" in the times of the 1960's, (which upon further research was done unsanctioned.)  I have a colleciton of cups from each decade since the 1950's that show the transitions from the more serialized "indian" to evevne incarnations in the 1960's being more formalized.  Indeed, by the 1970's, a rudimentary symbol, a profile, as in full use.  

5.  You make comparisons, again, to World War Fighters, and formal Klansmen.  Again, I feel better, less extreme points could be utilized...  Thank you for forgoing any comparisons to reprentent Nazi's, etc.  

6.  it was a "symbol" - along with a lot of special pleading about how a "symbol" is different than a "mascot" because a "symbol" is a figure meant to excite the crowd at football games by dressing up as something or other while a "mascot" is a figure meant to excite the crowd at football games while dressing up as something or other. It was just a vapid, empty, rhetorical dodge. It was an excuse. It was a pretext.

The Final point of my evening.  This was a part of a tradition, the 3 in 1, (Which itself predates Chief Illiniwek, though many have pushed for its removal for the "Division it causes")  At what point, does this "division" reasoning stop?  When the cleansing is complete?  When all have been shouted down, verbally accosted and intimidated?  

The symbol is a different concept.  It is itself unqiue.  It is something as the coach at the time described what the term "illiniwek" meant.  (A rough translation)

"The Whole man, the complete man".  It is an ideal to strive for.  

No laughter was to be heard, no jeers, simply a deep resounding note echoing.  The band director at the time of the visit by Mr. Fools Crow stated from his first experience "Wow, I thought they were booing the band!"

It was "Chief".  It was and is a moment where all, no matter their background come together.  Many would hold off their desires for food for later, after this.  It is something unique, a part of a culture.  If is something that requires people to have discussions about.  Indeed, it was this very thing that brough much of my interest in our native ancestors.  However, the goodwille can still be cultivated, and allowed to grow.  That is their point... Again, at least, I gather.

Tom Napier wrote on June 04, 2013 at 10:06 pm

"Even Charlie Sheen knows that steadfastly maintaining willful ignorance and clumsily calling for endless fake debate is not winning."

So, you define a difference of opinion as steadfast ignorance, and others making points and asking questions in discussion as endless fake debate.

This is turning from contentious, to sadly humorous, to just sad. 



Tom Napier wrote on June 04, 2013 at 11:06 pm

"The key difference between "Pocahontas" and the Chief is that in 1995 Disney was determined to honor Native Americans in their portrayal ..."


I could say "Pocahontas" was racist. You could say "Pocahontas" was perfectly acceptable.  I could say you're wrong, because "Pocahontas" is racist.  You could say you see nothing insulting or dishonorable about this movie and that almost everyone liked it, no one else attributed bad and evil to the character, and it doesn't fit the definition of racist.  I could say "Pocahontas" is racist because I say it's racist, and repeat the same thing over and over without substantiating my opinion or introducing any new information.  I  could ignore almost every issue you raise to support your opinion, then distort and trivialize a select few.  When pressed, I could revert to ranting about Amos and Andy, or maybe Shakespear where men played womens' roles on stage.  And all the while belittling and insulting you.

Then I could say I WIN AND YOU LOSE!

That would be a ridiculous discussion, wouldn't it?

Oh .....



spangwurfelt wrote on June 05, 2013 at 9:06 am

Or ... you could acknowledge to yourself that the Chief Lite the Vaguely Chieflike Mascot proposal from the Council of Backward-Facing Batmans landed with a soggy plop, that you'll get in response at most a polite letter from the Board of Trustees thanking you for your interest in a matter that's already long settled and which they have no interest in reopening, use that as a means to finally come to grips with the fact that the world has outgrown the Chief and that he's not coming back no matter how loudly you try to clap him back to life Tinkerbell-style, and take your first, long-overdue step toward MOVING ON already.

Or, conversely, you can spend the rest of your life refusing to believe the reality, blindly wasting your ammo, and pouring your energy out on what's so obviously a lost cause.

Your call.

mark taylor's ghost wrote on June 05, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Very well put.

Also, the Council of Variously Described Batmans wins the internet for at least a couple of days. Or forever.

spangwurfelt wrote on June 05, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Exiled Batmans Forever! Now and Forever! The Tradition Lives On!

Bheller wrote on June 05, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Many things have been called similarly.  However, if we are merely misguided.. You'd think we would "see the light?

There are many things people have cared about and fought for that come to pass.  This is something that I was told in a lecture would "pass within a generation of students, 5 years max".

It has not... and has even by the numbers, strengthened.

I encourage you to move forawd then and let the subject be.  You are putting a prodigious amount of energy into this issue.  Should there be no chance, why waste your energy?  

I know we continue to speak out becuase regardless of the pressures and insinuations, we believe that the issue has merit.  Speaking for myself, I find those debating the issue in many cases who are opposed to lack fundamental information (all white men, etc), I have even been informed that they found it insulting that he "danced on the sidelines like he does".  Again, I would generally wish to simply share the information, save the crusade that has gone on towards those who support the symbol..

Most of all, I find the lack of a middle ground disturbing.  Such as referring to this as "Chief Wahoo" in all cases... If oyu cannot allow your argument to stand on its own without bringing in a stronger case (such as arguing that tackling in the NFL is always bad, and in every case referring to every hit causing a concussion) does not endear me to your points of view...  Though please, continue and I will work to understand where you are coming from..  Again, can you make distinctions?  


Tom Napier wrote on June 04, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Sorry, the bysantine comment software strikes again.  Please see below.

Tom Napier wrote on June 04, 2013 at 10:06 pm

"That's why nobody's particularly impressed when you, and people like you, set yourself up to determine New Chief Chiefiness won't be racist. If you couldn't see it in the Chief, how could you possibly see it in Chief Chief-around-the-edges?"

Having never seen the proposed Native American representation, how is it you know so much about it?  You know for a fact he or she will be racist?  Or, perhaps you don't trust the Peoria Tribe with developing a representation that isn't racist.

This is an amazing talent; developing a psychological profile of a person that does not yet exist.  Or is it jumping to conclusions without that inconvenient burden of fact?

Bulldogmojo wrote on June 05, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Well let's see the pro chief crowd is postulating the following...

Our predominately white European colonizing force decimated your indigenous population with murder, disease, and starvation. Raped your women stole your property and even parade it today as "great rummage sale finds" on the antique roadshow and E-bay. Diluted your culture to something that can seldomly be witnessed other than a bastardized version on "Indian reservations" (aka, open air poverty prisons) All of which we refer to as "FOUNDING our country", But... we want to honor you through objectification by dressing up a descendent of white people in suspect garb and having him dance a little jig so the University of Illinois can capitalize on sweatshirt and key chain sales under the guise of "pride".

The anti-Chief crowd would like that to stop. Permanently!!

I'm going to stand with the anti-Chief crowd. Since we're voting and all.


Bheller wrote on June 05, 2013 at 9:06 pm


I see your point and agree in the whole... however... This land as you said was stricken, with figurative and literal plagues.

The person who came up with the previous itteration of the symbol (now removed) gave it to the University for use for only around 200 dollars, not expecting anything beyond that..

The current portrayer is not white, in addition to a few in the 1990's, and previous..

I will not argue with you that our history is stained in the blood of those before us... However, I will call to quetsion the insinuation that it is considered offensive to all... And in addition has no place in the future.  This is one thing as a recent article stated was a "win-win"


Read what is being proposed...  It is not about the dance, it is not about anything, but as it has been for those who utilize it... as a moment of reflection... 

If you notice, Chief always touches the ground before the second porition (after the stationary segment).  This is symbolic, such as many of the things in the dance.  It is an art and in it is something good and decent.  It is not perfect, however again, this is asking for a compromise, one where everyone gets a bit of what they want... and also... see what can be made from it.

Bulldogmojo wrote on June 06, 2013 at 7:06 pm

OK, if you feel you need the external reinforcement of gazing upon a guy in a costume to facilitate your moments of reflection then maybe get a job at Dallas & Company.

You will be as unfettered and loose as a Boneless chicken.

If you want Native American symbolism maybe let's try these guys.