Sunday, March 27, 2005

Column on Chief Illiniwek made light of cultural icon...

from:

Excerpt: Column on Chief Illiniwek made light of cultural icon
University's symbol glorifies tribal heritage

Morris R. Beschloss
Special to The Desert Sun
March 27, 2005


I deeply resent both the insinuations and implications against the University of Illinois' Chief Illiniwek emphasized in George Benge's column in the March 23 editorial page ("The Illini should put away their 'chief'.")

As chief spokesman for the university's interests in the Coachella Valley, it's incumbent on me to set the record straight on the distortions that one could glean from Benge's "tongue in cheek" ridicule of the Illini symbol.

Sine Benge already invoked the curse of his self-styled leadership position in the Indian Nation, and an Illinois loss in the NCAA basketball tournament may already have occurred - this would be no thanks to him, but an off-night by the Illini.

As one who was understudy to the "Dancing Indian" while an undergraduate at Illinois, I can tell Mr. Benge that love of Native American culture and appreciating the disproportionate contributions made by these original Americans was paramount in preparation for the Chief Illiniwek competition.

To be eligible, one had to be an Eagle Scout and a member of the "Order of the Arrow," both predicated on appreciation of Native American lore.

What is particularly galling is Mr. Benge lumping the "chief" with such demeaning symbols as the Washington Redskins, Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians' totem, and the Atlanta Braves' tomahawk chop.

The Chief Illiniwek controversy has been roiling the University of Illinois campus for years. It has emanated from outside sources totally unconnected with the distinguished Native American leadership, but representing agendas expounding special political philosophies.

Although a majority of the Illinois faculty has backed the elimination of the "chief," the student body supports his retention overwhelmingly.

As a Distinguished Eagle Scout who reveres the Native American's role in the progress of our nation today, I have yet to meet any member of the Native American leadership who rejects "Chief Illiniwek" out of hand.

Anyone who understands that the chief glorifies, not humiliates the Native Americans, would not write so disparagingly as George Benge did.

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