UI Senate supports Peoria tribe's statement calling Chief 'degrading racial stereotype'

UI Senate supports Peoria tribe's statement calling Chief 'degrading racial stereotype'

URBANA — The University of Illinois campus senate has gone on record supporting the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma's stance on Chief Illiniwek as a "degrading racial stereotype" that reflects negatively on all American Indians.

By a near-unaninmous vote, the Academic Senate approved a resolution Monday fully supporting the Peoria Tribe's recent statement on the Chief as well as its efforts to "end the public use and appearances of the Chief Illiniwek symbol, logo or mascot."

The sponsors said the Peoria tribe is the only one recognized by the federal government that includes descendants of the original Illinois Indians who once lived on the land now occupied by the university.

The Chief was intended to represent and honor those same Indians, the resolution said, but the tribe released a statement in May saying, in part: "The image portrayed by Chief Illiniwek does not accurately represent or honor the heritage of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma and is a degrading racial stereotype that reflects negatively on all American Indian people."

"The Peoria are significant to this campus," said Professor Jay Rosenstein, one of the resolution's sponsors and a longtime Chief opponent. "They're essentially the spokespeople for the Native Americans who lived here once upon a time. Their point of view about Chief Illiniwek has special significance."

The senate has approved other anti-Chief resolutions in the past, and Professor George Gollin asked if the new measure was necessary, given that administrators seem to hold similar views.

A "Critical Conversation" on the Chief launched by Chancellor Robert Jones to find common ground resulted in a report last week recommending steps to move beyond the divisive issue. And during his opening remarks Monday, Jones said again that he's tried to make clear that "Chief Illiniwek is gone, it is not to return."

Rosenstein said the Peoria Tribe's statement goes further in calling it a harmful, racially degrading stereotype.

"It's a powerful statement. It's something that every tribally affiliated Native American student, faculty and staff have been saying for almost 30 years, and I'm glad to see the Senate finally acknowledging their hardships," he said after the meeting.

The resolution did not address the "Critical Conversations" initiative. Calling that a "conspicuous omission," Professor Nick Burbules proposed an amendment endorsing the effort and, specifically, three recommendations in the report:

— Develop educational strategies to increase campus, local and statewide knowledge about American Indian histories, cultures and experiences.

— Create an ongoing dialogue to build understanding and respect.

— Explore the possibilities of new traditions that could include a mascot.

But other senators argued those points should be part of a separate resolution, and it was voted down.

Rosenstein said he had no objections to those three recommendations but doesn't necessarily support everything in the report. He wasn't specific, but the report also suggested commemorating the history of the Chief on campus.

Burbules argued that supporting the idea of the initiative to "move the campus forward," doesn't necessarily mean endorsing every recommendation.

Rosenstein, who has battled UI administrators on this issue for years, commended Jones for making his statement about the Chief and for strengthening the campus' relationship with the Peoria tribe.

He also praised the opening statement the university now uses at the start of any official campus event, stating that the UI sits on land once occupied by myriad Indian tribes.

Jones urged senators to read the report, or the executive summary, saying it's a good compilation of views expressed during the process.

He promised senators they will hear more in coming weeks about how the campus will be commemorating the 80-year history of the Chief and "honoring Native American imagery and culture in the way that we can all be very, very proud of."