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Supplement to the March 9, 1998, Senate Minutes

Supplement to the Minutes of the March 9, 1998, Senate Meeting, to speak to EQ.97.04, Resolution to Retire Chief Illiniwek, the prepared remarks of:

Ms. Charlene Teters, UIUC Alumna, Santa Fe, New Mexico:

In 1990, after giving a speech at the University of Illinois, Wilma Mankiller, was asked, "What is the number one priority for your nation?" The Principle Chief of the Western Cherokee replied: "To get our young people to believe in themselves again, to trust their own thinking."

She was addressing the mass mis-education of America about Native American history. Educational institutions continue to trivialize our history and our contributions through the exclusion of Native American history in curriculums and further degrade Native People through the symbolic display of our "chiefs," and religious practices with race-based mascots and symbols.

But who does this hurt? These symbols of cultural genocide deeply undermine our young people's self esteem and our ability to define ourselves. One in five American Indian children attempts suicide. These stereotypes cause non Indian people to refuse to accept as "real" Indian people who do not look or act like the stereotype.

Another impact is, that the University graduates students who go on to positions of power (Governors, Senators, Judges, State Reps.) who make decisions based on their misinformation about who they think Indian people are.

When I first arrived here 10 years ago, it was with a great deal of excitement. I was honored to be here amongst you, attending the University of Illinois, a Big Ten University. I came full of dreams.

But what I found... was a community permeated with Indian concoctions, a campus bar with a neon sign, HOME OF THE DRINKING ILLINI, a sorority, MISS ILLINI SQUAW contest. Fraternity brothers wearing colored paper headdresses to go to the bar to drink, and act out negative stereotypes of Indians. My dream,...turned to a nightmare.

This ignorance is our biggest enemy and this enemy seeks to silence and deny the truth. Chief Illiniwek is a barrier to students getting real information about Native American history and culture. Native students can't just come and be students, the community won't let them. So the "Chief" question becomes the litmus test for how we are treated on this campus. The very presence of 20th century Indian people challenge the ignorance and your students are arrogant about their ignorance of Native Americans and their history.

This issue is much larger than the University of Illinois and "Chief Illiniwek". The U of I is well known in Indian country...not for your educational excellence, but for your race-based Mascot/Symbol, your continued history of insensitivity toward Indian students.

It is true, not all Native Americans agree on this issue. The National Congress of American Indians, an organization of elected Tribal Chairmen and chiefs have passed resolutions regarding this issue, as well as the National Indian Education Association and many others.

This vote could be the beginning of a meaningful and necessary dialogue between Native Americans and non-Indians or the continuation of a history of hostility and lack of understanding and insensitivity. The choice is now yours. This is not about honoring Indian people. It's about acting honorably and showing moral leadership. An educational institution is no place for these relics of racism.

This phrase echoed around the country. We are not mascots or fetishes to be worn by the dominant society. We are human beings.

Mr. Bill Winneshiek, UIUC undergraduate student:

My name is Bill Winneshiek. I am an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and belong to the Thunderbird Clan. The Ho-Chunk originated in Wisconsin; their land base once extended from Green Bay, beyond Lake Winnebago, to the Wisconsin River and to the Rock River in Illinois. The Ho-Chunks are one of the indigenous peoples of Illinois. The Chief of my tribe is selected from the Thunderbird Clan and is restricted in general to the Winneshieks. The Chief of the Ho-Chunk Nation, as is the case with other tribes, functions as a spiritual leader.

The Chief of the Ho-Chunks is my great-uncle Ben Winneshiek. He is honored and revered among the Ho-Chunk people. The headdress he wears was earned. It was not bought nor would he sell it at any price. Eagle feathers in his headdress represent brave deeds he has performed; they represent services he has done for our community. Possessing an eagle feather is an honor. You are in a sense possessing the spirit of the being it belonged to. When one receives an eagle feather that person is being acknowledged with gratitude, with love, and with ultimate respect.

The facial paints Ho-Chunk wear have specific meaning. To distinguish the social units of our clan, specific marks of identity are utilized. Facial decorations mark each of our Clan's face at death.

Mr. Illiniwek mocks and ridicules part of my belief system. I've expressed my concerns regarding Mr. Illiniwek on numerous occasions. At the beginning of the fall semester, I sent a letter to the Board of Trustees regarding Mr. Illiniwek. I knew my concerns would fall on closed ears and that I would receive a negative response. Board member Tom Lamont's reply which advised me that I would be best served elsewhere quite honestly shocked me.

UIUC's purpose and goal is to educate students. Something is terribly wrong when that learning institution places more value on a mascot doing a gymnastics routine, dressed in Lakota regalia, than for me to receive an education.

The stereotypical image projected by Mr. Illiniwek is not what we are. The University's so-called "chief", believed to be an honored symbol, has turned into something to divide and separate us. I ask that you approve the resolution to retire Mr. Illiniwek. Thank you.

Brenda Farnell, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology (UIUC):

The Chief is not only a matter of concern to Native Americans. This inaccurate portrayal miseducates all members of the campus community. By creating and supporting oversimplified and inaccurate views of indigenous peoples and their cultures, it contributes to the development of cultural biases and prejudices, rather than educating against them. This makes it much more difficult to achieve the University’s stated educational policy of inclusivity and diversity.

The continued presence of the Chief also opposes our educational mission by sending a covert message to students that inaccurate information is acceptable -- especially if it supports your belief system. The sentimental attachment many students hold for the chief frequently overrides critical reflection and creates an anti-intellectual climate dismissive of critical thinking and reasoned argument. For example, it has been repeatedly claimed that the Chief honors Native Americans. In light of definitive evidence to the contrary, instead of re-evaluating, we now find the commitment to the chief being rationalized by arguing that honoring is, in fact, irrelevant because "the Chief is not a representation of Native Americans at all" and "it's been such a long tradition that it no longer has anything to do with Native Americans." Ingenious certainly, but completely irrational -- take another look at the symbol!

This example illustrates how attachment to the Chief encourages an ideological commitment -- with all its attendant emotional fervor -- that is dismissive of reasoned discussion. As an educational institution, shouldn’t we be working to counter this disturbing trend in our society rather than covertly supporting it?

Supporters also rationalize their commitment by saying that not all Native Americans are against the chief. Like any other group of 2 million people, Native Americans do not agree 100% on any issue. Neither are they immune from internalizing the damaging stereotypes that confront them on all sides. The point is that American Indian educational associations, tribal leaders and national institutions, all strenuously object to the use of American Indians as sports mascots.

Others believe that the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma, should be the ultimate authority on this matter. The Peoria position is that the Chief is of no interest to them as long as it doesn’t affect the ceremonies and spiritual practices of their own community. Some tribal politicians support the Chief, largely because it might act as leverage to get scholarships. Other people say it is up to us to do what we think best -- they are not going to tell us, one way or the other.

Lastly, a word about tradition (which apparently, we anthropologists don’t understand or appreciate). History teaches us that traditions, in and of themselves, are not always honorable. In earlier times it was the tradition of this university to exclude women. It was also the tradition of this university to exclude people of color. I submit to you that it is the tradition of this university to change its traditions when times and moral sensibilities demand change.

Native Americans, like other people, are not immune from internalizing the stereotypes that surround them, with disastrous results when it comes to feeling pride and respect for one’s cultural heritage.

It is important to understand the power of such imagery to undermine self esteem: I have seen kids on reservations wearing Redskins jackets, or tee shirts displaying the Cleveland Indians caricature -- for teenagers especially, any contemporary image, however demeaning, is better than complete invisibility, which IS the alternative!!

A cultural take-over bid, effectively says to Native Americans -- shut up! We, the "white folks" of this country, are the only ones who have the right to determine what you will mean. This is a classic example of how cultural representation is related to asymmetries of power.

Likewise, when faced with the uncomfortable truth that a Plains war bonnet is totally inaccurate for the Illinois tribes, it has been rationalized that, well, since both fighting and feathers, even if they were used for different purposes -- were a part of the Illini tradition then a Sioux war bonnet is O.K.!! A for ingeniousness and innocence of bigotry -- F for rational argument.

It is impossible to argue on Rational grounds and with evidence, against people who are committed to RATIONALIZING their own beliefs in this manner -- there are, in principle, no reasons they will listen to and they refuse to get self-reflexive about their own beliefs. This is commitment to an ideology -- it is used to rationalize, justify, and prescribe to others what they should believe.

Henoc Erku, Red Tears Productions, read Change's Gonna Come:

It has been said that the last step in genocide Is the appropriation of the people[s] culture First you exterminate, then you demonstrate That you can…
For, on your mantle piece…lies…A redskin, a decapitated head, A tomahawk, and yes of course a bow and arrow But in your mind this is education
War paint, a headdress, and a Lakota outfit Cannot hide your hatred of true knowledge For several of your own departments tell you of the consequences And yet and still you choose to ignore them
Instead you point to…pride and tradition…In the b_stardization of a people and a culture
So we stand here today in Solidarity To tell you that an injustice here will not go idly by
We are united in our efforts to dis-mantle The tools of mis-education
And create an environment inclusive to all

Carrie Johnson, Students for Chief Illiniwek:

Time and again we have heard arguments for and against Chief Illiniwek. We've heard negative viewpoints, now it's time to look at the positives. Some of the possibilities the Chief provides are for educational growth and acceptance in and of Native American culture. To retire the Chief would be to abandon the spirit of the Illini, which the University strives to represent. We must look beyond what the Chief is now and visualize the positive potential he allows for the University community and for Native American culture.

So what changes can be made? The tradition of the Chief lies in the Chief itself, not in specific regalia or dance; each of these has evolved in time and they can evolve again. We should not retire the Chief and the Illini culture, but take necessary steps to improve representation.

Secondly, the Chief is a symbol that students, alumni, and the Illinois community are proud of, because they do not see it as a typical mascot, but instead as a dignified symbol that sets this University apart and sets Native Americans apart in a positive light. In their minds, this puts Native Americans on a pedestal. There have been attempts to replace the Chief with a mascot and they have failed, by rejection from the student body and the community.

The next step is to develop a solid Native American studies program, so that educational growth in this area may be an option for students. If prejudice is the argument, then I argue that prejudice can only be eradicated by education. I believe these changes can only be successful if the Chief continues to exist.

We must not abandon our traditions, but find ways to honor the heritage of Native American peoples. From a personal standpoint, I see my alma mater representing a fading culture, my fading culture, and my Native American blood. I am very proud.

John Mamminga, Orange & Blue Observer:

The Chief has been a controversial issue on this campus, but I question whether this is an academic issue. Accusations have been made by faculty from the Anthropology Department and by the Equal Opportunity Committee that the Chief is an academic issue. I believe the Chief can be an educational gateway to learning about Native American history and culture; its role as an impediment to academic progress is far from reality.

A distinction must be made between a dignified half-time performance on a Saturday afternoon and an issue of real academic concern. The Chief symbol represents the spirit and pride of the Illini people, while those against this symbol argue about its lack of authenticity. It is not the intent of the Chief to provide a history lesson, but rather a dignified set of ideals each of us strive to achieve. Ideals such as pride, respect, and loyalty are embodied in the Chief.

To destroy this symbol cherished by countless students and alumni will not solve academic problems, it will not help create a Native American studies program, it will not help students learn about our state's heritage, but it would be a significant loss to the University community. I urge you to vote against this resolution. Thank you.

Debbie Reese, Native American Student Organization:

Good afternoon. I am Debbie Reese. I am Pueblo Indian from Nambe, a small pueblo north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. My Tewa name means "Waters deep in the mountains". I am a doctoral student in the College of Education. Today, I speak to you as an officer of the Native American Student Organization. Our stated purpose is to promote cultural and educational activities regarding Native American culture, for both UIUC students and the Champaign-Urbana community.

We receive a large number of requests to visit and/or speak about Native American culture. Invariably, requests come from individuals who indicate they know very little about Native American culture; indeed, all they know is the Chief. These individuals tell us they know the Chief is not an accurate representation of Native American culture and that they are seeking accurate information. In the last 3 weeks, we have received over 30 requests from individuals such as a social worker from the Urbana School District, high school teachers from Judah Christian and Central Schools, a coordinator at a local summer camp, as well as from the Champaign Public Library.

This work takes time away from our University studies. We could choose not to accept these invitations, but we feel it is important not only to us but for those who will follow in our footsteps coming here to study. Many former Native American students did not complete their degrees; they brought their families and children and found the environment not to be friendly. They were exhausted from being students as well as Native American ambassadors attempting to overcome the Chief stereotype.

The University's endorsement of the Chief has serious ramifications for Native American and non-Native American children in this community. My 7-year old daughter is forced to defend her identity to students who tell her there are no real Indians - they're all dead.

We respectfully request that you retire the Chief. Thank you.