CHAMPAIGN — A formal public retirement of Chief Illiniwek and a plaque outside Memorial Stadium commemorating the Chief's history — and why the symbol was dropped — are among the recommendations from a commission asked to help the University of Illinois move past the 30-year-old controversy.
The report from the Chancellor's Commission on Native Imagery: Reconciliation and Healing, released Friday morning, lists more than a dozen recommendations, including a website with a comprehensive history of the Illini, Fighting Illini and Chief Illiniwek tradition.
It does not call for a new mascot, leaving that question open. But it suggests the campus undertake a transparent process involving "all key university stakeholders" to develop new traditions for students and fans to rally around that "do not rely upon Native American images or traditions."
It also recommends dedicating a site to the Native American tribes who once lived on lands now owned by the university and creating a Native American liaison officer in the chancellor's office.
Chancellor Robert Jones said he was pleased with the report, a continuation of the "Critical Conversation" he launched a year ago.
Jones said he will take the recommendations under advisement as he considers "what the next steps should be."
That process involves deciding "how and when and if" each will be adopted, which ones could be implemented in the short term and which might "have a longer time frame," he said.
"We will be making decisions as quickly as we can," Jones added, promising to be transparent and "candid."
The campus has already begun work on some of the ideas, such as partnering with the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma to improve access to education for its members.
And Jones has voiced support for commemorating the Chief's history and developing new traditions to fill the void left by its departure, though not a mascot specifically.
The report addresses the four areas Jones outlined in the commission's charge: provide closure, healing and reconciliation for stakeholders; facilitate the establishment of new traditions; remember the history of the Chief, including the intent and impact; and honor and partner with the Native Nations "for whom Illinois is their ancestral home."
The report suggested using "external professional resources" to engage people in developing new traditions. Jones said the campus may want an outside perspective from branding experts or others on the best way to create a process where people can submit ideas.
He emphasized that "tradition" is not "code" for adopting mascot.
"Those are two separate issues," he said. "If, and only if, we decide to go down the route of looking at the possibility of a mascot, it clearly has to have that kind of broader context."
Regarding the Chief's history, Jones said, it's important for a research university to tell the story accurately, "based on factual data and documents," to capture the context and intent of the tradition as well as the impact that it had on the university over 80 years.
"And if you're going to tell the story completely, you have to help people understand why it's no longer appropriate.
"I have no desire to try to erase history," he added.
Jones said the idea of a public retirement for the Chief is "worthy of additional consideration," noting it's not the first time that has been proposed.
"This is a way of more or less symbolically trying to send a very strong message to all parties that we're transitioning from this extended era of Chief Illiniwek to a different era where we can truly start to make decisions and do programs in a way that does no harm to Native American heritage and culture," he said.
He acknowledged not everybody will be happy with that recommendation or the broader report.
"We're not that naive," he said. "At the end of the day, the whole purpose of this commission is to come to some reconciliation and some agreement for a significant number of people on how to move forward with this.
"There's no simple, comprehensive solution that will please everybody. It's about making incremental progress," he said.
The commission met with Jones in May to present its recommendations and forwarded a draft report soon afterward.
The report said the suggestions reflect "the concurrence of the commission stakeholders."
Given the panel's makeup, with staunch Chief supporters and opponents, "it was obvious that not everybody was going to be in complete agreement about every recommendation," Jones said.
He called it a "consensus report" and said he was gratified the group reached its conclusions on a divisive, complex issue "in a very balanced and consultative manner."
"Our hope is this report provides the opportunity for the University of Illinois to continue to acknowledge our responsibility to tribal nations, while ensuring that those university participants who took part in the events of the past are respectfully remembered in the next steps of the process to move the University of Illinois forward," the report said.
Reactions to the report were mixed, to say the least, even among those who served on the 14-member commission.
Two Chief supporters, former Chief portrayer Dan Maloney and Ivan Dozier Sr., complained that their efforts to retain some semblance of Native American traditions in connection with athletics were ignored or dismissed. They said they were told up front that the Chief itself wasn't coming back, but not "any form of native connections whatsoever," said Dozier, who has Cherokee ancestry.
"I felt like at the end of the day they were not honest with us about what the expectations and what the end goal was," Maloney said Friday, adding that he might not have participated if he had known that was the case.
The report, however, calls for increasing campus ties to native nations and, specifically, working with the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma and the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization to host more campus events on American Indian culture.
Maloney and Dozier did say they liked the idea of a liaison in the chancellor's office to the Peoria Tribe and other nations. But Dozier added that "it doesn't make much sense to me to say you want to build meaningful relationships with tribes except the most visible thing the university does as far as the public is concerned."
Maloney is also happy the UI might develop a thorough documentation of the Chief tradition but worries it might be sanitized. "The devil's in the details," he said.
The commission's two co-chairs, Eric Jolley and Stu Levenick, did not respond to messages from The News-Gazette, but issued a joint statement through the UI: "While not every member of thecommission agrees with every point in the final report, it represents an overall consensus, and we stand behind it."
Commission member John Caughlin, a communications professor and UI alumnus, felt the process was useful.
"With the range of people involved, nobody's going to be entirely thrilled about every aspect of it. I did feel like we reached a point where everybody's voice was heard in that document in some way," said Caughlin, who offered his comments before learning of Maloney's concerns.
As an alumnus and someone who is "very well aware of the history of the Chief and the use of Native American imagery on campus," Caughlin said he gained respect for the work that Maloney and other Chief portrayers put in "to promote something that the university was asking them to promote."
"I think that what we came up with does a really nice job of respecting the role that the Chief and the Native American imagery had on the campus and in the campus community for many years," Caughlin said. "I think it's important the university recognize that and not try to distance itself from that," while recognizing that "controversial Native American imagery is not going to be an appropriate representation of the university in a contemporary world."
Commission member Vikram Sardana, a graduating senior and Chief opponent, said "there's a lot of good detail in the report on ways to recognize the history and provide closure."
But he has heard concerns about the proposed plaque or monument about the Chief and said he emphasized that the university should not "build anything that winds up becoming a sort of shrine to the Chief."
"If it's done right, with more of an educational focus, then it can be a valuable way of moving forward, but the wording and design are going to need a lot of careful thought. The work on that should be done by academics," he said.
He also said activists who spoke up against the Chief long ago, including Native American artist Charlene Teters, need to be recognized in any history of the Chief.
Sardana has also encouraged student government to create a task force on new traditions and thinks the campus should move quickly to put them in place, possibly by fall 2020.
"While that's an aggressive timeline, these actions are decades overdue," Sardana said.
Attempts to reach four other members of the commission were unsuccessful, including Craig Harper, chief of the Peoria Tribe, and Lauren Kirby, a recent UI graduate who was president of the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization.
Two longtime Chief opponents criticized the report Friday.
UI emeritus Professor Stephen Kaufman - who has also urged the UI to also drop the Chief's dance music (a portion of the "Three in One") and restore the World War I connection to the "Fighting Illini" nickname - said the report ignores those practices that "perpetuate racial stereotyping of Native Americans" and seems focused on "rewriting history and creating monuments to white supremacy."
"If these monuments are to be true to history, they will have to include the toilet paper, beer cans, snow shovels, golf balls, doormats, etc., bearing the Chief logo, and they will have to explain how a race-based mascot honors people when those very people tell you it does NOT," he said.
He blames the ineffective implementation of the Board of Trustees' 2007 decision to end the Chief tradition for the ongoing dispute as well as a "lack of will and backbone on the part of university administrators."
"There can be no reconciliation of the Chief Illiniwek issue until the university publicly acknowledges the injury that the racism of Chief Illiniwek caused to several generations of Native American students, faculty, staff and community members, and issues an apology for that injury to all those individuals. Reconciliation is not achieved by apologizing to and coddling the hurt feelings of the perpetrators of racism, as this committee suggests be done," said UI Professor Jay Rosenstein, director of the Chief documentary, "In Whose Honor?"
UI alumnus Mike Gonzalez, who portrayed Chief Illiniwek from 1974 to 1976, said the general reaction from his fellow portrayers is "disappointed."
"Some people still hold out hope that there's an opportunity to bring back some version of this former symbol that might be acceptable to a representative tribe like the Peoria tribe," he said.
"This is probably as good as we were going to get in terms of an attempt for a balanced approach," he added.
He faulted UI officials for not doing more long before 2007 to address complaints about the tradition.
"Had the university been more out in front of this and done a lot of the things that are now suggested in this commission's recommendation, perhaps there would have even been a way to salvage some vestiges of the Chief tradition."
Highlights of the report from the Chancellor's Commission on Native Imagery: Reconciliation and Healing:
— Develop materials to commemorate the "history, intent and impact" of Chief Illiniwek at a "significant public event" that would be a formal retirement of the Chief, to serve as "closure for the past and pivot to the future."
— Invite indigenous students, faculty, staff and alumni as well as the Council of Chiefs, a group of former Chief portrayers.
— Establish a plaque or monument outside the stadium to commemorate the history and intent of the Chief and the UI's decision to retire it "to better align with current educational perspectives on diversity and inclusion."
— Establish permanent recognition for those who served as "university-sanctioned Chief portrayers, recognizing their intent to positively impact school spirit," and for the work of Native American students and faculty.
— In collaboration with "all key university stakeholders," develop new traditions for students and alumni to build momentum around those "that do not rely upon Native American images or traditions."
— Be transparent about that process and "maintain a clear distinction between the establishment of a university symbol and the creation of a mascot."
— Use "external professional resources" if necessary to help develop those traditions, such as music, symbols, branding, marketing or a mascot.
— Develop a historically accurate account of the Illini, Fighting Illini and Chief Illiniwek, using rigorous academic standards and "modern journalistic integrity."
— Include the origin and intent of the symbols and the evolution of public views toward Native American imagery in sports as "an inaccurate misappropriation of Native American culture."
— Include the UI's 2007 decision to retire the Chief as well as the "ineffective implementation of that decision, resulting in years of division and strife."
— House it in a prominent campus location and create a website curated by the UI.
— Create a "curated space" where the public could post memories of the Chief tradition, both positive and negative, with "an ever-changing and limited number" accessible to all visitors.
— Create a local site dedicated to Native Americans, highlighting their history in Illinois and the state's modern connection to nations "forcibly removed from the state."
— Solicit feedback on the report's suggestions from the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma and other federally recognized native nations.
— Establish a liaison officer in the chancellor's office to those organizations and launch new activities with them.
— Collaborate with the Native American & Indigenous Student Organization on events such as a public speaker series, a history exhibit or a plaque in Memorial Stadium to recognize Illinois' indigenous heritage.
— Work with the American Indian Center of Chicago to partner with the urban Indian communities in Illinois.