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Stereotype of the Month Entry
(10/27/00)


Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

News-Gazette Editorial
October 26, 2000

Let the Chief Live

The University of Illinois has had its dialogue on Chief Illiniwek. It has listened politely to more than 15,000 people with an opinion on the UI symbol, respected all of them and issued a report on the dialogue under the auspices of former Cook County Judge Louis Garippo, who served as moderator.

Not surprisingly, there are many opinions on the tradition that began innocently at the halftime of an Illinois-Penn football game in 1926. But the overwhelming majority of dialogue participants favored retaining the Chief. And a poll in the Chicago Sun-Times fortifies the Garippo report findings. It shows that a prodigious majority of the 600 likely Illinois voters polled 63 percent want to keep the Chief. Only 14 percent don't.

So where does that leave the UI and its board of trustees? It leaves it in the same place it has been all along, stuck between an overwhelming majority who favor continuing the traditional performance and a vocal minority who find it offensive. And that minority will not be pleased until the Chief is gone. This is a dispute the university will never be able to settle amicably.

It doesn't matter what the UI has done over the years to moderate what had turned into an injudicious image in the 1950s and 60s.

The Chief no longer dances at shopping malls or rides a horse in parades. He appears only at home football, basketball and volleyball games. The cartoonish icon that appeared on products and publications 40 years ago is long gone.

The Chief is incomparable among university symbols. He is not a cheerleader or a mascot. He is a venerated representative of the people who lived here centuries ago and from which the state and university take their names. At some point, the UI Board of Trustees will be called upon to discard the symbol of the Chief. They should politely and firmly say no. A tiny few will choose to be offended; the vast majority will approve.

The Chief's removal from UI athletic events would benefit no one. It would sever an emotional link between today's Illinoisans and those of 74 years ago, and those of centuries earlier. It would be a lost opportunity to honor and remember the people who lived here before us. It would be not unlike changing the name of Memorial Stadium, a place built in honor of Illinoisans who died in the first World War.

Let us remember the American Indians with dignity. Let the Chief live on.

*****

From: "Progressive Resource/Action Coop." <xx308@prairienet.org>

Dear Anti-"Chief Illiniwek" Activists and Allies:

The following pro-"Chief" editorial appeared in Thursday's "News-Gazette." The PRC is urging all "Chief Illiniwek" opponents to voice their opposition to this kind of clearly racist thinking by sending letters to the editor to the "News-Gazette." Letters should not exceed 250 words and must include the author's name and contact information. Letters should be sent to <letters@news-gazette.com>.

Some points you may wish to address is your letter:

(1) Majority support for the "Chief" does not justify its continuation. As with many historic movements for social change (i.e. abolition, women's suffrage, civil rights, etc.), those on the forefront of change were not always in the majority.

(2) The changes that have been made to the "Chief's" appearance and performance were a direct result of anti-"Chief" pressure. No amount of sanitization of the "Chief's" image will change the fact that the very essence of the "Chief" is racist and genocidal.

(3) The "Chief" does not honor if those whom it is purported to honor are asking for its discontinuation. Truly honoring Native people would mean acting upon the pleas of Native peoples and their allies to put an end to racism at UI and to develop the programs and resources on the UI campus that would truly allow them to flourish.

Thanks,

The PRC

Rob's comment
This is an old issue, but the News-Gazette editorial gets nominated for its ludicrous claim that Chief Illiniwek is a "venerated representative" of the Indian people. Clearly Indian people don't venerate the Chief, as the response shows.

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