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The Real Chief

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jan 19, 2007 4:22PM

2007_1_bodyart.jpgThe latest salvo in the battle for the future of Chief Illiniwek was launched yesterday by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, when they presented the University of Illinois' board of trustees, the university president and the chancellor with a resolution demanding the university "cease use of this mascot." Welcomed by the American Indian Studies faculty and the staff at the Native American House at the university, the resolution charges that regalia given to the U of I is being misused to represent the people of Kaskaskia, Peoria, Piankeshaw and Wea nations.

Although the regalia was presented to the university in September 1982 by Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow, one of his descendants, Mel Lone Hill, now wants it returned to the family. This isn't the first time that U of I has had to deal with the ramifications of holding onto a "mascot" that depicts a racial minority. In August of last year, the university announced that it would hand ownership of Chief Illiniwek to the Council of Chiefs after the NCAA issued a new policies against "hostile" and "abusive'' mascots. That November, the Council of Chiefs held an 80th anniversary celebration, coinciding with the last U of I home game of 2006.

The funny thing about all of this is that supporters of Chief Illiniwek argue that keeping the mascot around "honors" the Illini nation. We understand the emotional connection that many people have to the mascot, but we aren't buying the "honor" line. Unlike the Florida Seminoles, who have gained explicit permission to use the image and symbolism of the Seminole Tribe, Native Americans have asked, several times, that the university stop depicting them in this manner. It seems to us that if the very people you are claiming to honor ask you to stop, you should honor their wishes.