Thursday, March 17, 2005

Chief opponents file lawsuit

From: The Daily Illini Issue 3/17/05

Chief opponents file lawsuit
By Jeremy Pelzer

Opponents of Chief Illiniwek have filed a lawsuit against the Board of Trustees in an attempt to force the University to abolish the controversial mascot.

The lawsuit, filed by the Illinois Native American Bar Association (INABA) and two American Indian individuals, alleges that keeping the Chief as the University's mascot violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, the Illinois Constitution and the Board of Trustees' own non-discrimination policy. The suit asks for a judicial declaration as to whether Chief Illiniwek is demeaning and discriminatory to American Indians.

According to the suit, filed in Chicago Circuit Court on March 15, the board "promotes, perpetuates and teaches the dehumanizing stereotype and view of Native Americans that developed among colonizers and as such is harmful to both American Indians and non-Native Americans" by supporting the Chief.

Richard Hutchison, member of the INABA and University alum, said the suit was a last resort because the Board of Trustees has failed to take action on the issue.

"The Native American community has waited long enough for the board to act on its own," Hutchison said. "We came to the conclusion that (the Chief) would never be abolished - not in the near future, anyhow."

The last action taken by the Board of Trustees on the Chief issue was a resolution passed last September stating that any solution to the Chief Illiniwek controversy should preserve and celebrate American Indian and Illinois heritage. In June 2004, the board approved a resolution calling for a "consensus conclusion" before any final action is taken on the future of the Chief.

The plaintiffs will wait to see the Board of Trustees' response before deciding whether to go to trial, he said.

University spokesman Tom Hardy disputed the lawsuit's claims.

"The University of Illinois complies with state and federal laws concerning discrimination, due process and equal protection, as well as the University's own non-discrimination policy," Hardy said. "In addition, the University has grievance procedures if students or staff allege those policies have been violated."

Hardy said University counsel is reviewing the suit and "will respond appropriately."

Because of the Chief, the two individuals in the suit - Champaign resident Roger Fontana and University of Illinois-Chicago student Stephen Naranjo - have been aggrieved, Hutchison said.

"They really can't attend a University of Illinois sporting event without being embarrassed," Hutchison said.

Hutchison said the Chief has also lowered the value of a University degree and the quality of a University education - especially for American Indian students.

More American Indians could have joined in the suit, Hutchison said, but he didn't want to "muddy the waters by getting unwieldy."

Joe Podlasek, executive director of the American Indian Center in Chicago, agreed that the board's support of the Chief led to discrimination against American Indian students at the University and prevents them from getting an equal opportunity for education.

While at the University, American Indian students are constantly confronted with questions and comments about the Chief, Podlasek said.

"Our students are getting involved (with the issue), whether they want to or not," he said. "They (American Indian students) didn't go there (to the University) to argue a mascot - they went there to get an education."

The Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative (PRC), an anti-Chief group, hailed the lawsuit as a much-needed action against the Chief.

"Going through the courts to solve the divisive issue on our campus is a promising avenue in eliminating the Chief," said Anar Ladhani, PRC member and a senior in LAS.

But Greg Meves, internal vice president of Students for Chief Illiniwek, said the lawsuit is a "hindrance to a consensus that the Board is trying to build now."

Roger Huddleston, president of the Honor the Chief Society, said he "would love to see that (case) in court." He said if the suit goes to trial, the courts would rule on whether the Chief is a racist symbol - a ruling in which the pro-Chief side would prevail because of the high esteem in which the mascot is held, Huddleston said.

Hutchison, an American Indian, said when he was an undergraduate at the University in the 1960s, he, too, supported the Chief.

"I loved the Chief," Hutchison said. "I thought the Chief honored us."

However, after he graduated, he met other American Indians who showed him a different view of the Chief.

"My thoughts were transformed," he said.


Blogger Kiyoshi Martinez said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Kiyoshi Martinez said...

If you want to see the full text of the Chief lawsuit, I have posted the court document in my blog:

Chief Court Doc.

Please note: I am Chief "neutral" on the issue, but do believe that this information can benefit both sides in the ongoing discourse.

6:33 PM  
Blogger illininet said...

Thanks for sharing that information!

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

im for the chief 100%...i think its stupid that people want to get rid of it and say that its humilating...well i think the people that wanna get rid of the chief are racist...its the only symbol thats keeping the Native Americans alive today...its more of an honor then disrespect...people need to get over this political correct bull crap! why dont you people worry about something else for a change!

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

heres another one lets worry about pornographie and child molestors instead of worrying about the chief, like i said in my last comment there are other things in this world taht matter more then the chief.....this is getting just dumb, people have way to much time on there hands...its about school and an education not a silly mascot which i think is cool.. HAIL TO THE CHIEF baby

6:27 PM  
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2:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the mascot should be removed. Whoever was the one that said "the mascot is keeping the native americans alive today" doesn't get the whole point to removing the mascot. the reason it is to be removed is that it is showing a negative image of native americans, that is not what native americans are today. by having these stereotypes, children are taught that native americans are a thing of the past and not a group that is still very much present

5:37 PM  

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