Thursday, April 07, 2005

Opinion: Illiniwek no stereotype, should stay

Illiniwek no stereotype, should stay

By Bryan Tolles
April 07, 2005
The Daily Northwestern>br>

Last week I was blessed with tickets to the NCAA men's Basketball finals in St. Louis. Although drunk, I noticed something was missing in the halftime show -- Chief Illiniwek. In fact, he was missing from the entire NCAA tournament. The Chief's absence spoiled the most important game in the 100-year basketball history of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That and North Carolina's brilliant three-point performance.

Overzealous liberals deem the University of Illinois mascot offensive and argue that he must be eliminated. They contend that Chief Illiniwek stereotypes Native Americans. I would understand this if he were to sit mid-court drinking a beer and managing a slot machine. But the history of the Chief and his performance offers a different perspective.

According to a report published by the university's board of trustees, Chief Illiniwek is an almost 80-year-old tradition at Illinois. The Chief's 5-minute halftime show is based on a dance called "fancy dancing," a Native American celebratory dance. The dance has no religious context and is similar to dances performed at Native American dance competitions.

Illiniwek's outfit is handcrafted by the Sioux. It was purchased from Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow of the Oglala Lakota Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1983. So let's not pretend that Chief Illiniwek looks like a cartoon character.

Many universities have changed their Native American mascots, and it is argued that Illinois should do the same. However, this was because these schools treated their mascots as Native American caricatures. Unlike other mascots, the Chief does not take part in any antics on the sideline.

Chief Illiniwek is on the same level as Chief Osceola of the Florida State University Seminoles. Both wear authentic tribal regalia and both perform a short show deriving from a Native American tradition, yet there is little controversy over Osceola. What is it about Chief Illiniwek that is more disturbing than his counterpart Osceola?

I have heard people criticize the Illiniwek name. They find it offensive to name a mascot after a Native American tribe. Illiniwek is a name for the Illinois nation, a group of American Indian tribes. If it is so offensive, then I urge the removal of Peoria and the state of Illinois from all maps.

Illinois officials should consult and cooperate with those knowledgeable of Native American tradition to change any aspects of Illiniwek that are legitimately offensive.

For those insulted by Chief Illiniwek, a goal should be to educate and promote Native American history. How will banning the Chief enlighten others regarding the historical importance of Native Americans?

I challenge the opposition of Chief Illiniwek to use him as an educational tool. Eradication of all Native American symbols in collegiate and professional sports will not change society's perception of them, rather it will eliminate them from our memory. Bryan Tolles is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at b-tolles@northwestern.edu.

Last month's Rally Against the "Chief" on the U of I campus brought together forty protesters. According to the rally's organizers, there were speakers supporting the removal of Chief Illiniwek. Sounds like someone is preaching to the choir.

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