Tate: Chief lives on — just not at Illinois

Tate: Chief lives on — just not at Illinois

Florida State has a terrific football program.

Just think, the Seminoles completed a 14-year stretch in 2000 with 152 wins and 19 losses (1 tie). An incredible run! There was more to Bobby Bowden than his Southern drawl. They’ve attended 31 straight bowl games since 1982 and were being wooed by every conference from the Big Ten to the SEC before electing to remain with their Atlantic Coast brethren.

The Florida State media guide hit the desk this week, nearly cracking it. The 212-page production must weigh a ton. I dropped it and broke three toes. Tried to pick it up and strained my back. It’s packed to overflowing with school and football information.

But take note: There are no athletes on the front cover, just a stunning, multi-dimensional hologram of a student representing Chief Osceola. There he is, rearing high on a gorgeous Appaloosa and wielding a feathered spear. And on the back cover, more Osceola. No coaches. Just barely a schedule at the bottom.

It is perplexing to have seen the University of Illinois, with the Native American derivation in its name (it is French for “warriors”), go through the painful dissolution of the widely revered Chief Illiniwek while Florida State pays such homage to its symbol.

History lesson
Whereas the Seminole Tribe survived federal intervention (three wars in the 1880s) by retreating into the impenetrable Everglades, members of the Illini Confederation were displaced and scattered to the winds and, in some cases, are extinct. Florida State had in-state Native Americans with whom to reach an accommodation.

So, what the NCAA declared was “hostile and abusive” and “perpetuated stereotypes” at Illinois is deemed not only acceptable but glorified in Tallahassee.

As stated in the guide: “FSU is proud of its long-standing cooperative relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Seminole people have suffered many hardships and injustices, but they have remained brave, dignified and proud. The Seminoles are unconquered. They symbolize what we hope will be the traits of all of our graduates, including our student-athletes.”

Thus, in a spectacular start to every game at Bobby Bowden Field, the packed stadium reaches a crescendo when a student in authentic Seminole regalia rides Renegade to midfield and plants a flaming spear. It started with Bowden in the late ’70s and is still going strong.

Music to their ears
We return now to Monday and our pre-scrimmage radio show in Rantoul. A former Chief took the microphone and was met by a crackling response from assembled fans. The portrayal has been banned since Feb. 21, 2007, and yet, for many loyalists, he remains the heart and soul of Illini athletics. That’s 61/2 years ago, when upcoming college sophomores were unknowing eighth-graders.

The Chief simply won’t go away. Displaying an aspect of their semi-rebellious nature, more than 11,000 UI students voted 4-1 in favor of the Chief last March.

Long-time supporters have persevered for a way to bring him back. At UI games, they see a dancing ghost in their mind’s eye as they rejoice to the strains of 3-in-1 music.

You may witness a day, not far distant, when tech-wise fans download the dance on iPads and watch a handheld performance while the Marching Illini band performs. It is that popular, that meaningful to loyalists.

Meanwhile, the Council of Chiefs and others, repeatedly rebuffed and most recently by chancellor Phyllis Wise, continue to work behind the scenes. They have selected a new student portrayer every year and formulated a plan, at one point reportedly supported by Oklahoma’s Peoria Tribe (an original in the old Illini Confederation), to return the Chief in a modest way with perhaps two annual appearances but no dances. However, Wise countered and contacted the Peoria Tribe, receiving a different response. She insisted that the Chief be “part of history, not the future.”

This merely forced proponents to retrace their steps to Oklahoma as they make another seemingly hopeless push for partial reinstatement. And they are encouraged by the continued popularity and the Florida State precedent indicating the NCAA will approve if a namesake tribe is supportive.

Noted Dave Wischnowski, writing for CBS in Chicago: “The Facebook page for Chief Illiniwek has 57,000 followers, over half as many as the university itself.”
Doesn’t sound like it’s going away, does it?

Impact, aftermath
As we look back, what has Illinois gained by eliminating Chief Illiniwek six years ago?

First and foremost, the long-standing controversy was divisive — a constant distraction — to the point where it became a contentious part of every major UI board meeting. Something had to be done.

Second, the university was certified to host an NCAA tennis tournament this past spring and is available for various early-round events in other sports like volleyball and soccer. These would otherwise not be certified.

Third, the Chief had become an awkward aspect in dealing with faculty at other institutions. Some schools like Iowa and Wisconsin announced their unwillingness to schedule teams with Native American mascots, though this wouldn’t have affected scheduling mandated by the Big Ten Conference. But there was a distinct stigma that impacted the UI’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading public universities.

Fourth, there were what I would consider empty threats about challenging the UI’s bowl certification.

Outsiders rule
Human nature being what it is, you can’t tell someone else how to vote, who to love and how to pray. Some prefer country music, others like rock.

The Chief’s halftime appearance was, for some, a near-religious experience. What is an insult for one is a thrilling experience for another ... and in this case, an overwhelming majority of fun-loving Illini fans have been outmaneuvered by an intense minority.

It is not altogether unlike the situation in South Carolina where the NCAA refuses to hold any pre-scheduled tournaments because the Rebel flag still flies at the Statehouse. This is majority rule as displayed by popular support and a lopsided legislative vote. The flag is an affirmation of Southern pride to the majority but represents white supremacy to dissenters. When it waves, some see Southern independence while others see the first state to secede from the union.

When it was stated, “We don’t expect people from outside the state to understand the dynamic,” this could be applied to Chief Illiniwek as well. Here’s the difference. South Carolina is run by South Carolinians. They know their culture and are willing to suffer the consequences. At last report, the ACC moved baseball tournaments out of the state.

While president Bob Easter is an “Illinois man of long standing,” the UI has overwhelmingly been run by administrators and faculty members who had little or no background here, and by some Board of Trustees members who barely knew the campus before they were nominated. Wise’s decision is consistent with her upbringing.

Outsiders are not expected to comprehend. It is understandable that they view Chief supporters as rubes, and me as a nitwit for feeling their pain.

But how do you tell someone it’s wrong to take pride in something when they grew up with it and their heart swells with pride at each appearance? How do you tell someone how to vote, or what music to enjoy. Or who to love?

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

Bear8287 wrote on August 18, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Whoa, this article might set a record for the number of responses it receives.

What I find truly sad about the whole situation is that what could be a "win-win" situation for both Native Americans and the University has devolved to nothing but losers all around. A failure of leadership on all sides.

westcoast wrote on August 19, 2013 at 12:08 am

The Chief is on the wrong side of history.   As a loyal Illinois alum living far away, I grew tired of defending the Chief to people who asked me, incredulously, to explain how he was honorable.  At a minimum, the Chief was a significant distraction.  While I defended the chief, there is merit to the argument that it is not a reverential to Native Americans when we have a white student dancing a made-up dance at half time of sports events wearing an orange and blue "I" painted on his cheeks (which is what the Chief wore for years).  It certainly is not easy to explain.

This chapter in Illinois history is over.  Chief supporters (and I was one), lost.  It is time to move on.  Society moves on and we need to do so as well.   South Carolina looks foolish flying a Dixie flag.  Where does that leave us?


JohnUI82 wrote on August 19, 2013 at 9:08 am

"It is time to move on." Absolutely.

tntsher wrote on August 19, 2013 at 7:08 am

I agree with you Bear, no one has won in this situation. Even the CHIEF opposition, who I'm sure are loving the fact that a beloved SYMBOL of our state institution and our state has been removed, have no real reward besides spite, because what has it accomplished? Has removing an honored example of our Native American culture really helped their cause? And what exactly WAS the cause? Does it help more Native Americans get out of a poverty level? Did it help with the other problems they face? And I disagree with you westcoast.....if you were able to defend CHIEF for years, did the pc crowd just simply wear you down or what changed. Our nations left coast loves to be politically correct and take on all sorts of "causes". Yes, it was a white student, BUT in AUTHENTIC CLOTHING, doing an AUTHENTIC DANCE, (these moves were part of an celebration dance by tribes originally from the Illini Federation) and the "I" facepaint had been removed over the years to promote a more AUTHENTIC look. Does the fact that a "white" student was selected diminish the entire idea of what CHIEF stood for? If so, that is racism at it's worst! I guess we could totally do away with every symbol, name, city, state or referance to any Native American word or place....or we could use the same for teaching and honoring the Native American heritage that we have. I believe that THE CHIEF was and still is one of those finer examples that we should embrace. Maybe there are things that could still be changed for the better, I'm sure the former CHIEFS are more than willing to continue to deal with Native American Tribal CHIEFS for every detail. But it's time that a small minority does not decide this debate based on what little they have. Loren, thank you for a well written article.   

trynott wrote on August 19, 2013 at 8:08 am

Well writen tntsher. Westcoast: I've been an alumini for 34 years and never ONCE had anyone second guess my loyalty to the CHIEF. You should have grown some nads and told your PC buddies to F-off. It's very simple: The ancient Greeks used black and white stones to create majority rule and the basis of demacracy. Your PC buddies want to dethrown this time worn tradition - hmmm. Now THAT is a skew of tradition. GREAT article Loren.

Moonpie wrote on August 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

Knew this column was coming eventually. Sir Tate Legend lives in the 1800s and will never give up on his racist mascot.Like many fans, I grew up attending games at Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall. Yes--when I was a kid, the Chief was stirring and seemed electric. I stood and clapped like everyone else. But when I got older and learned who Native Americans really are, how badly they have been treated, I knew that this racist caricature had to go. I'm glad its gone. The Chief lovers, of coruse will shout me down--after all, what's a few Injuns to them if they can have their silly stereotype of Indians? Thankfully, they don't have it anymore -- except in their intolerant minds.The Chief is as poor of a stereotype as Oracle Tate is as poor as a columnist.

IlliniLaurie wrote on August 19, 2013 at 11:08 am

Thank you, Loren, for a great article. What I don't understand is why the Chancellor won't get EVERYONE in the room (Dr. Kaufman, Dr. Warrior,Dr. Easter, The Council of Chiefs, Students for Chief Illiniwek, The Honor the Chief Society, UIAA President) and create a "win-win" for everyone, as best we can. We start from the premise that we comply with only what is actually in the 2007 NCAA ruling. This issue is *way more* divisive than it was when the Chief was dancing. There is a serious lack of leadership here. Does anyone remember the "Three-in-One" controversy about 18 months ago? I've lived out of the area for many years but have a number of friends in CU. They all say the same thing: they never saw ONE public comment of support for this MUSIC from Dr. Wise. If they are correct, that's pathetic. Is banning music next? I hope I'm not the only one who thinks 'freedom of expression'.Loren is right, this issue will not go away and Wise is fooling herself if she thinks this is the case. She has missed a truly golden opportunity to bring everyone together on this issue and that is far beyond sad; it's just not very smart in the long run.

OrlandoIllini wrote on August 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Another great column, Mr. Tate.

The nation’s 21st state is the namesake of the Native Americans who inhabited the area.

From the Illinois State Museum: “At the dawn of the historic era, when European explorers first entered the land we now call the State of Illinois, they encountered a people who became known to the world as the Illinois or Illiniwek Indians.”  “…they played a key role in the early history of what would later become the midwestern United States.”  “The story of the Illinois people is a remarkable tale of adaptation and change.” http://www.museum.state.il.us/muslink/nat_amer/post/htmls/il.html

For decades the state’s flagship university portrayed a symbol honoring the Illinois people. Not one person was actually harmed, threatened or impugned by that symbol.

The small anti-Chief group seemed to be a confederacy of A) arrogant elitists who want to dictate how folks lesser than themselves should act and think, and b) race-baiting publicity hounds who garner attention by fabricating conflict and victimhood where none exist. Together, they created a propaganda vortex that led to the ironic conclusion that the only good Indian Chief is an extinct Indian Chief.

Yet as you note, FSU’s symbolic Indian Chief is celebrated, respected, revered, and above all, NCAA-approved. Perhaps the UofI should reincarnate Chief Illiniwek… heaving the flaming spear of peace, instead of performing the dance of violence that caused so much destruction and death.

Or maybe the state’s name simply should be modernized. Perhaps something like “101 Servile Counties.”

jgrout wrote on August 19, 2013 at 6:08 pm

I got to know one of the administrators whom pro-Chief forces loved to hate: former Chancellor Michael Aiken.  He had a magisterial presence and made an enormous impression on me.

Even in the small group of mostly senior administrators with a few others (including me) in which I got to know him, he reserved his opinion on the Chief, as he did on all matters of university policy.  He explained to us that university policy is in the hands of the University President and Board of Trustees; it was their job to consult with him and other senior administrators as and how they chose and that, once policy was set, it was his and his senior administrators' job to carry it out.

His successor as Chancellor paved her way out of her administrative duties by making repeated insubordinate public statements against the Chief.  Unlike Lou Tepper, who lost his job for his insubordination, she could have stayed on campus as a tenured professor; all senior administrators are tenured professors in their discipline and may only be relieved of their administrative duties (or they can resign them and return to academic life).

Neats wrote on August 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Two things need to happen and I will give up on the Chief.

#1 The NCAA who allegedly are against mascost, symbols and representatives should be as upset about the expoiltation of the Irish by Notre Dame, laborers by Purdue and the Seminoles by Florida and Oklahoma. At best their current stance says if someone gives their permission (like the Seminoles have) then exploitation is OK.  No, NCAA you cannot have it both ways.  Either exploitation is bad or it is not.  Ban all exploitation, both approved and unapproved and then they can ban the Chief.

#2 Find a majority of Illini Inidians that object to the manner in which the Chief portrays Illini Indiana.  Not members of the Peoria tribe who are sort of related to the Illini but actual Illini.  Oh, can't find any because they have assimilated into other tribes?  Then how can a people who no longer exist be exploited or offended?

If the NCAA actually cared about exploitation, i might be moved.  They do not so I am not.

kfzmeister wrote on August 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm

As a Chief supporter for life, i love when these sort of articles appear. Keep the hope alive. It has always been an honoered tradition. Thanks Loren

PrairieDog7 wrote on August 20, 2013 at 1:08 am

Did you see what Loren just did there?  He compared the Chief to the Confederate Flag flying over South Carolina.  You know, one of the remaining symbols of slavery and racism in our country.  Loren just showed his true colors.  It is about race.  And as long as Loren is in the majority, he wants the right to control things as he wills.  

Now the Confederate flag was indigenous to white folk in South Carolina.  The Chief was and is not.  So not only does Loren want majority rule over his own symbols (even though they may be hateful and hurtful), he also wants control of other people's symbols.  Doesn't matter if it's wrong.  Loren should get to decide.  

Loren may have just doomed the Chief forever.  From here forward, the opponents of the Chief can point to Loren's article and suggest that one of the Chief supporters compared the Chief to the Confederate flag and called that a good thing.  If I read that as part of the Peoria Tribe, I would nod my head knowing that it is not about honoring any people.  It is about controlling them.  

Bheller wrote on August 31, 2013 at 8:08 pm

No, he hasn't.

This isn't something that cna be doomed simply by snippets.

Much of the NCAA's infomration on the issues was provided by a micro professor at the University, who has vigously pursued his viewpoint.

That is a touchy issues, and I don't agree with the confederate flag personally.


I call issue with your logic...   (see moral equivalence) 

Just beacuse there are similarities, does not mean they are the same or equal...  That is really concerning if that is the logic being employed... 

Again, please can we go on facts, such as Frank Fools Crow's Statement in the 1980 visit "As long as it stays honorable, it is a good thing".  The Arizona tribe who have made the tradition, not a person, an honorary member of their community.

The facts that it has NOT been simply "white" nor only men.

The misinformation is freightening...  



JESalukIL4ever wrote on August 20, 2013 at 7:08 am

Any team that picks a mascot/symbol is done for one reason.  PRIDE.  Its the PC'ers doing what they do best.  Before long there will be no team names, because it will offend someone somewhere.  Just like the idiots in congress, time to kick them out along with PC'ers.

beekay wrote on August 20, 2013 at 11:08 am

I used to comment about this issue with very relevant and reasonable arguments for the Chief's existence that I wholeheartedly believe increased the respect for Native America.  But at this point, there is little reason to regurgitate those points when the powers that be chose the path of least resistance in the interest of the almighty dollar.  So I won't do that.  But I will say this -- the University of Illinois that I attended has been compromised.  It surrendered its heart & soul and autonomy and gave it over to the NCAA and alot of fringe rabble rousers who wouldn't be willing to return to the countries of their descendants if all the land that we stole from the Native Americans was returned to them.  It's easy to complain about a perceived injustice if it doesn't affect you personally.  All I know is that I used to have no big problem suffering through horrific football seasons when I knew that the Chief was going to fill me with a sense of pride and honor at halftime.  I felt reasonably well when I made the long drive home knowing that we had our own identity in defeat and in victory.  I don't feel that anymore.  It just doesn't really feel like the same place to me, and I've got kids playing soccer games now on Saturdays.  And so a couple of seasons ago I did something that used to be unthinkable to me -- I dumped my season tickets.  Strangely, I don't miss it.

There are plenty of people who aren't as passionate about the issue as I am, and they'll be happy to criticize me.  And that's fine.  But for me, I've learned that when you sell your soul then you redefine your identity.  I don't much care for the new identity.  It's not the university that made me nor the one that I invested in.  Sure, I'll still root for it but not with the same passion that I once had.

aaeismacgychel wrote on August 20, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I remember the day the NCAA made their proclamation that having Nativer American mascots and monikers were hostile and abusive and perpetuated stereotypes. And then I remember them saying that not only did we have to get rid of the Chief, but that we had to change our name from the "Fighting Illini". Not many people remember that second part because it was later rescinded (with no apology of any sort by the way) due to a tongue in cheek response showing why the team name, "Fighting Illini" was coined. It was to honor the men and women who fought for statehood, and once and still do protect its borders. And the NCAA itself said that that was "hostile and abusive" before hearing how idiotic they sounded and changing their tune.

It was at that point where I lost complete respect for the NCAA and their crusade for political correctness. Florida State and North Dakota both threatened to sue the NCAA for their remarks and the NCAA immediately withdrew their claim against those schools. But Illinois? There is no Illini tribe anymore (actually there never was- it was a group of tribes) and while the Chief had support from the remnants of these tribes all the way up to the year 2000 (yes, 2000 was the first year the Peoria tribe didn't express their support), there was nobody there to speak for them. But in the NCAAs targeting of FSU, UND, and our nickname, "Fighting Illini" which did not have anything to do with native americans, showed their lack of research or desire for political correctness. It was all a charade. A flash to take people's focus off the real issues with the $NCAA$. This isn't about fairness or rights, it's about the NCAA pandering for much needed good publicity. And how could Illinois speak up when nobody would speak for them? They were painted by the NCAA as a racist institution. Where do you go from there? It was a forced hand. It was always a forced hand. And it was a joke.

This is also an institution that had 2 of its board members state they would not support the next men's basketball or football coching hire if he wasn't african-american, again bringing up Illinois racism. So what does Illinois do? No, they don't say they'll hire whoever they deem the best person for the job whether he's black, white, purple, or rainbow colored and that race and religion take no part in their hiring practices. No, instead they put together a list containing only african-americans to interview. How is that not racist? For a flagship university and a Top 10 university in the nation in the sciences, a university that swears by everybody having equal footing and earning their way in, how can you act in such a contradictory and hypocritical manner? That was the first time I ever felt the university was actually racist in all my time there as an undergrad and alum. How do you not publicly rebuke those two board members and ask for their resignation? I don't get it. And what happens? Well I'll say African-American are probably the right people to hire because they're obviously smart enough to not want anything to do with our trainwreck athletic teams. Good for them- I'd run away from Illinois too right now.

Illinois is a scared university frightened of its own shadow and it will not do what's right or just, they'll just do whatever is the easiest and offers the least resistance. And that's really the basis of what I learned there. I did not gain all that much knowledge or outside-the-box thinking. No, what I gained was realizing that in this world, the person who fights the good fight is few and far between, what's right doesn't matter, and that most people are big talkers, but run whenever it's their turn to take a stand.

beekay wrote on August 21, 2013 at 10:08 am

There is an interesting sidebar to your correct statement that the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma did not express their lack of support for the Chief until the year 2000.  In that year, they issued a resolution to the University of Illinois asking the university to retire Chief Illiniwek.  Do you know how much "support" that resolution had by the Peoria tribe?  The resolution was adopted by a vote of 3-2 by the members of their tribal council.  Heck, two of the five leaders in their council didn't even support it!  I don't call that support.  I call that indifference.

Tom Napier wrote on August 23, 2013 at 10:08 am

The Peoria Tribe's resolution requesting the University of Illinois to discontinue the use of Chief Illiniwek as a symbol passed by exactly the same 3-2 margin.  Please see http://aistm.org/2000peoria.htm.  Heck, two of the five members didn't even oppose it!  I don't call that opposition.  I call that indifference.

Bheller wrote on August 31, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Again, numbers only matter when they work for their point of view...


not the 4 to 1 for student votes, etc..


As a scientist... i have a problem with that... It is not about the facts... 

Bheller wrote on August 31, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Mr. Tate,


Well said.

No one likes to be called a racist or told that they are behind in the times.

That has been the pressure garnered, pushing people to defend.  

As Hilary Clinton was qouted as saying:

"and to use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor." 

This is not how you win hearts, this is contrary to our liberties...  The ends do not always justify the means... 

People have commonly stated to me that they are against the racist tradition done by white drunk college students...  Again showing their ignorance, showing that they have not researched into the diverse group who have represented our chief.

There are almost always middle grounds, see: http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2013/05/07/wisch-return-of-chief-illiniwek-proposed-and-ignored/

Scholarships attached..

And again, extremes...  

Why can there not be a middle ground, to draw from the goodwill involved?  

There are always shades of grey, and the fervor and earplugging truly is not a way to end the "divisiveness".  You don't silence your opponents, you work with them.  Again, this though is something BOTH political parties struggle with...  I just expect we can be better.

And I know we can be.  Beacuse regardless, that is what our Chief is meant to stand for, "the whole man, the complete man..."


ources: ^^^^^