Dance, [Cowboy, Militiaman, Cavalryman]

Filed under:Church of Liberalism,Politics,Sad — posted by Anwyn on February 22, 2007 @ 7:16 pm

A few days ago I posted at Electric Venom about the demise of the tradition of Chief Illiniwek, until last night the mascot of the University of Illinois. After a pitched battle between Indian confederations grievance-mongers, university professors, and students and administration, dragging on many years, the NCAA last year set sports sanctions for UI, and the board announced last week that the chief would be discontinued. A comment from a graduate of U of I currently working there was helpful in tracing the scope of the decision–that it wasn’t just the NCAA, but the fact that Illinois’s legislature and governor were against retaining the chief as well, which the News-Gazette’s article does mention.

I got my master’s degree at Illinois, and this was simmering when I was there too, though I have not been as emotionally involved as the majority of undergrads who go to games and get attached to school traditions, and I don’t know that I agree with ProphetJoe’s suggestion that there should have been a public vote. (Or his suggestion that the board was against the Chief because some of them are Michigan grads, although the idea does make me chuckle.) Who would vote? All citizens of Illinois? All students and faculty? All residents of Champaign-Urbana?

Somebody will correct me if I get any of the legalese wrong, but it sounds like the legislature was more than happy to let the NCAA do their dirty work for them. If the legislature had enacted this itself, theoretically the U could’ve sued the state government for abridgement of freedom of speech, but how does that work when the suing institution is funded in part by the government? Doesn’t that make them a state actor themselves? The NCAA, however, has in previous cases, bewilderingly, been ruled both a state actor and NOT a state actor for purposes of Constitutional law, and I don’t know what the precedent currently is. I do not like that it has come to this; while I don’t think tradition should be the sole arbiter of what is retained, I don’t think the Chief was hurting enough people that he should have been steamrolled. Sensibilities, maybe. People, no.

Once friends of mine at UI, the husband from Illinois and the wife from Australia, decided they had the answer: It didn’t matter whether we thought the disgruntled Indian tribes (mostly Sioux, from what I understand) were right to be offended: that they were is reason enough. Sorry, my friends, but that way lies saying Duke lacrosse players should have been convicted of rape just because the accuser was upset. No. To me, the question is more like: What business is it of the Sioux, one of whose tribesman sold the costume to U of I long ago? That’s like having a Saxon accuse a third party of offense on behalf of a Norman. Or a Scotsman on behalf of a Celt Welshman. Where’s the revered multiculturalism, when Indians of all tribes can be lumped together for common grievance? ^All right, I kid. Mostly. Their voices should be heard, but question: Who was really upset–a large block of Indian-heritage people, or a group of grievance-mongers?^ The Illini, as all tribal confederations, had a rough history, but Wikipedia says they were mostly wiped out by their fellow Indians and that there are now believed to be no full-blooded Kaskaskia or Peoria or other Illinois tribe members left.

Is that an excuse to lampoon them? No. Was that what Chief Illiniwek did? No. Check out the images. He looks pretty fearsome to me. Are the aggrieved parties alleging some mistake of fact? Was the University hoodwinked by that old Sioux back in 1926, buying a costume that catered to what they thought Indians were like, rather than how they actually were?

Opponents of the Chief say it is not over: that they will fight to have the names “Illini” and “Fighting Illini” removed from the University’s sports program–even though Illini simply means “people of Illinois.” That’s a cake-and-eat moment, isn’t it? Without Chief Illiniwek, the university students are literally “people of Illinois.” While the Chief was there, “Illini” might be supposed to have referred to the earlier peoples of the region, but remove the Chief, remove the context.

Query: If you were a scion of a long-dead people, which would offend you more–the portrayal of your people as fierce and determined, his dance meant to spark fear into opponents’ hearts? Or his replacement with a figure perhaps more appropriate to frontier America but whose coming at the very least hastened your demise? Dance, cowboy. Let’s see who howls then.


  1. I’m from Champaign, and I graduated from the University of Illinois College of LAS in 1975

    I’ve been arguing for some time that THE CHIEF SHOULD GO INTO THE PRIVATE SECTOR. That is, the Chief — both the person and the symbol — needs to exist apart from the athletic department, and apart from the formal University of Illinois.

    The Chief should be supported and maintained by a “club”, or some other private sector entity that doesn’t rely on the University of Illinois for support. There will be hundreds of businesses and individuals who would gladly provide private sector support for the Chief. Of course, he will longer do his dance at the athletic venue. Instead, he has to dance before the athletic event at a nearby location, such as Hessel Park.

    I imagine a pregame party with food and bands, and all Illini fans getting fired up. Then, at a critical pregame moment, the crowd goes silent awaiting the entrance of the Chief. It is a holy moment, almost sacred. The Chief does his dance amidst a crowd of Illini fans while a band plays the Chief’s dance song.

    At the conclusion, the fans can march together to the stadium or assembly Hall, if the weather is good.

    How the Chief trademarks work into all of this, I don’t know. I’m not sure what the ownership issues are. But certainly, the private organization supporting the Chief should attempt to lease or purchase rights from the University, if the University indeed controls such rights.

    The main point is this: it’s a mistake to think that the Chief can no longer exist. On the contrary, he CAN exist, and he can be just as powerful as he ever was. It’s just that he now has to exist in the private sector, instead of with the sponsorship of the University of Illinois. The decision by the Board of Regents to kill the Chief is binding on the University, but it’s not binding on free citizens. In our role as free citizens, we can create and revere whatever symbols we want.

    I doubt if this arrangement will come to pass, but I think it’s an idea worth exploring. I would definitely contribute money to create a startup, private-sector group to keep the Chief alive. My suggestion for a name would be “The Chief Reverence Foundation”.

    Let the University go their own way if they wish. Meanwhile, Illini fans can go THEIR own way. That path is reverence for the Chief in a private sector organization.

    —Tom Nally, New Orleans

    Comment by Tom Nally — February 22, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  2. Thanks, Tom, for your comments. I would be all for a group of like-minded people getting together to keep this up. What’s kind of funny is that in this type of situation, wait long enough and eventually things will change. By bringing it to a point, though, the opponents of the Chief have made people like you far more determined.

    Good luck!

    Comment by Anwyn — February 22, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  3. Hi, Anwyn:

    For the Chief-in-the-private-sector idea to succeed, what it needs most is a dynamic personality leading the movement. I’m definitely not that guy. I’m 54, I live in New Orleans, and I ain’t dynamic. (I’m a curmudgeon.) This leader is even more important than funds. If the leader emerges, then the funds will follow. If I was casting the role of leader, I would pick someone in his/her late 20’s or early 30’s, an entrepreneur in the Champaign-urbana area, and a U of I graduate, of course.

    The first objective of the leader would be to use public statements and appearances to change the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom is that the Chief can only exist within the arms of the U of I. The leader needs to make this point: The Chief doesn’t need the U of I, he only needs Fighting Illini fans. And there are millions of the latter.

    The second objective would be to recruit businesses who would donate to the private foundation, which I call “The Chief Reverence Foundation”. I fully believe that area businesses would do this. Once funding begins to arrive, a lot of other things will come easily.

    The third objective would be to work the trademark issues. My idea is that if the trademark issues cannot be worked out with the University, then the Foundation should merely refer to their icon as “The Chief” in formal foundation communications. I think that’s generic enough that it couldn’t be forbidden by legal orders. In private conversations, fighting Illini fans should continue to call him “Chief Illiniwek” or “Chief Illini”. After all, in our private conversations, we can call our icons whatever the hell we want. Then, after several years, I think the legal staff of the University will get weary of battling over subtle nuances in names, and find that they have better things to do. At that point, the foundation may be able to refer to their icon as “Chief Illini” in in formal foundation communication.

    But before all that happens, the movement would need a leader most of all.

    Oops! I almost forgot the most critical characteristic that the leader must possess: the ability to ignore and dismiss those people who are unhappy with the Chief. I would spend as little energy as possible responding to them.

    —Tom Nally, New Orleans

    Comment by Tom Nally — February 23, 2007 @ 7:30 am

  4. Good Morning!

    The private sector might be appropriate, Tom, but I imagine the NCAA would say the University was still maintaining a “hostile environment”.

    There has been talk of the UI returning the copyright of the Chief symbol to Jack Davis, the graphics artist who created it back in the early 80s and was paid just under $300 for his work. If they do, I’m pretty sure he would license it for use on merchandise — he basically said as much in a recent TV interview.

    As far as the Emil Jones angle — he seems to have a definite bias against the Urbana campus. This article was reportedly from Ebony magazine, but I have not verified that fact:

    “Jones also believes the state should do more to help impoverished and disenfranchised minority communities, even to the point of using funds from legalized gambling to fund education and promote economic development. Despite strong opposition, Jones pushed through legislation to provide a percentage of revenues from a new gaming license in Illinois to go to inner-city Chicago State University rather than the more prestigious University of Illinois downstate.

    He is also responsible for targeting enviable funding to Chicago State for capital improvements, scholarships and technology programs, including a new library. The school is also building a convocation center, named for Jones and his late wife, Patricia Jones.”

    Perhaps this is just part of his legacy-building… who knows?

    All I know is that in the last 5 years, the U of I has had to cut more than 25% of their Administrative staff budgets and those cuts AREN’T being made in the high-end salary region of the organizational chart! Secretarial staff and technical professionals are not being replaced and people are retiring early because of the stress.

    Furthermore,a much smaller group of (generally) non-Illinois-graduates are making the decisions. This used to be a place where excellence was promoted and outstanding individuals rose through the ranks to become Provost, Chancellor or the President. I can think of one good leader (George Russell) who left as the Dean of the Graduate College to become the President of the U of Missouri system. Now, we bring in Michigan grads and Purdue grads and they stay for 4-5 years and move on — meanwhile, our talented faculty leave for greener pastures because we don’t promote from within anymore… and we can’t attract some of the greatest faculty because they don’t get promoted here anymore!


    Comment by ProphetJoe — February 23, 2007 @ 9:11 am

  5. Hi, Joe:

    Regarding your comment that the NCAA might consider a private Chief foundation “hostile”, and attempt to compell the University to police such things…

    My thought is “Who cares?”

    Look, even if the private Chief foundation was overtly derogatory of native Americans — this is hypothetical, of course — the University cannot limit what is essentially a constitutional right of free citizens: to peaceably assemble. As a private citizen, if I assemble a group of my acquaintances into a club, and we decide to create an icon that we revere, and that icon is a native American, is the University going to police the meetings on my own private property? I would like for them to try, because I would summon the police to have them removed, with force of arms if necessary.

    If the University wants to forbid meetings of my hypothetical club in the Illini Union, that’s one thing. On University property, the University can be arbitrary to their heart’s delight. But they have no power over what private citizens do on their own time, with their own money, and on their own property. If the private Chief Foundation meets at Marketplace Mall, they need the Mall’s permission. But they certainly don’t need the University’s!

    That’s the key: as private citizens, we don’t need the University’s permission to create icons for study and reverence, as long as no trademark infringement occurs.

    Let the University go their own way. We’ll go ours.

    I don’t know who Emil Jones is, but the private Chief Foundation doesn’t need his permission, either. This illuminates an important characteristic for whomever may lead the movement to create the private Foundation. The leader must understand that he need not seek permission or approval from our adversaries, the anti-Chief constituency. The sooner everybody understands this, the better it will be.

    I don’t need their permission if I want to revere the Chief. Likewise, they don’t need my permission if they want to be self-absorbed busybodies, and a general drag on society.

    —Tom Nally, New Orleans

    Comment by Tom Nally — February 23, 2007 @ 10:39 am

  6. […] Following the end of Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois, Urbana’s state legislature rep is introducing a bill defining the NCAA’s actions as “improper” when they extend to a university’s choice of mascot and thus allowing the university to sue. Query: couldn’t they have sued anyway? But the NCAA is a sanctioned monopoly–the federal government gives it the exclusive right to govern collegiate sports in member institutions. I don’t know how successful a lawsuit might have been. Here’s the kicker regarding the NCAA’s action as far as I’m concerned: The university appealed again, arguing the NCAA exceeded its authority, violated the university’s institutional autonomy and applied its policy arbitrarily because other schools were allowed to keep their American Indian mascots if they had approval from the tribe. […]

    Pingback by Anwyn’s Notes in the Margin » Lawyers, Will This Fly? — March 16, 2007 @ 9:11 am

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace