Friday, December 15, 2006

"Field Hearing" on Tim Johnson's resolution

This morning in Champaign, Illinois, there was a field hearing on Representative Tim Johnson's bill that seeks to create a law that tells the NCAA to butt out of UIUC's business with regard to UIUC's racist mascot, "Chief Illiniwek."

I was there and offer observations:

Several people who wish to have the mascot retired arrived, wearing t-shirts that said "Racial Stereotypes Dehumanize" or "Love the Team, Not the Mascot" or home-made shirts. They were not allowed to wear these. They were stopped by police officers providing security for the event and told they could not come in wearing those shirts. Reason? These shirts were "signs."

Meanwhile, many people walked in wearing "Chief Illiniwek" shirts with the logo, and others with just the word "CHIEF" on front. These were not "signs." They are the "symbol" of the university.

Examples of institutional racism. That's what they are.


Several people were invited by Tim Johnson to give testimony for the hearing. None of them are American Indian. Johnson said he asked the Peoria tribe to give testimony but they declined. Johnson COULD have followed with the Peoria tribe statement asking that the mascot be retired, but, being Tim Johnson, he did not do that.

Stephen Kaufman spoke with great power, clarity, and eloquence as he summarized the history of the issue.


State rep Chapin Rose gave testimony, saying that the entire Illinois House of Reps had written to NCAA and gotten no response. Not even the "courtesy" of an acknowledgment that their statement had been received.

I found his repeated statements about not getting acknowledged or heard as IRONIC. Talk about being unresponsive! Native peoples across the country and our professional organizations have denounced the use of Native imagery for sports team mascots.

He said it was "sheer arrogance" that they had the "audacity" for NCAA to ignore their statement.

Who's being arrogant?!

The Congressman from Michigan (I'll post his name shortly) wondered if a school in his area would be in trouble now, since they changed their name from Indians to something like Beavers. He wondered if the Humane Society would come out in opposition to the use of Beavers. Apparently the Congressman saw nothing wrong with equating Native Americans with Beavers. Kaufman pointed that out to the Congressman during the Q&A.


Tim Johnson, in an effort to say UIUC likes Indians and has Indian support, said "Ogala." He likes us so, and holds us in so much esteem, that he mispronounces the name of the tribe he's trying to say supports the mascot.


Liz is said...

I just moved here from Florida four months ago. This was the first hearing I attended regarding Chief Illiniwek. I found it interesting that some of the politicians asked to be 'educated' about the issue, yet the panel was filled almost completely with people just like them - white men.

I also found their arguments disturbing and hard to follow. They seemed to switch in the middle of the whole thing from a "laws" and "policies" issue that had nothing to do with the psychological impact of indigenous peoples to all of a sudden being interested in the psychological impact of indigenous peoples when it came to the Florida Seminoles. Also they could not seem to comprehend for themselves that these issues are complex and pluralistic and that there is not just one "standard" across the board answer (of course this probably comes from the fact that most of them lumped all indigenous peoples together into one group, as if they do not have separate communities, sovereign governments, laws, or cultures).

One politican spoke about being Dutch and wanting to know what would happen if he put in a complaint against the "Flying Dutchmen" mascot. Of course the audience was not allowed to speak, but what I wanted to say is that THIS IS NOT THE SAME. First of all, this country has not been built on the backs of "Dutchmen." It has been built on the backs of indigenous peoples and African American peoples - in a long and violent and bloody way that has caused huge amounts of historical trauma and genocide and pain for entire communities of people. Secondly, tribally connected indigenous peoples all around the country have spoken out about this and have requested that this mascot be retired (or more appropriately, just gotten rid of). Thirdly, from my understanding, "Chief Illiniwek" was MADE UP by white people. How on earth can you possibly be "honoring" a group of people on some image that you've created based on your own stereotypes, in their name? How exactly is that respectful in any way?

This hearing was basically listening to a bunch of old white guys tout the same old stuff they always do, trying desperately to hold onto whatever privilege they have but calling it something else completely.

-- Liz

mr said...

I arrive a little late and had to leave early, so I missed a great deal of the thing, but from what I did see, I can say that your description is both succinct and accurate.

This hearing, such as it was, appeared to have been invented for the purpose of creating an official history of sorts. Tim Johnson et al, seem to be trying to cover themselves in a number of different ways. They want to be able to say that they've 'studied the issue', that they've done their best to fight 'the good fight', and so on.

But I don't get the impression that there is any actual attempt here to do anything in any concrete sense of the word 'do', but rather this is all about creating the appearance of activity.

Nevertheless, even self serving posturing should be countered effectively, and I was very glad to see so many familiar and supportive faces in the audience at what was clearly intended to be as inconvenient a time for us to appear as possible.

Shuntay said...

Hello Debbie. It was really nice seeing you this morning. I must say that I am really shocked to hear the opposing arguments. However, I really enjoyed hearing from Mr. Davis, Dr. Kaufman, and Mr. Franklin. There could have been even stronger support presented than what was there but, in comparison, with the support we had, we still kicked butt. I was embarrassed and shocked to hear the older gentleman make the comparisons of the American Indian mascot to that of a leprechaun and the Flying Dutch but I guess that happens with old age. Plus US history wasn’t taking into account anywhere in that worthless argument. I feel we should get rid of all mascots that are based on stereotypes. Overall, I am glad that I was able to attend and show my support. My grandma would have been proud. We must all stay strong and keep hope alive.

trevaellison said...

Hey Debbie,

Glad to see such amazing turnaround on getting the info from the hearing up. I couldn't be there but from the video it seems that the whole thing was appalling. It seems that, throughout history, whenever politicians (read: conservatives) don't want to so something they turn it into a states rights issue (like ending slavery). But when a large institution does something ridiculous, (Medicare Part D). There's not a single voice of dissent...disgusting. I didn't hear Tim Johnson speaking up for adequate healthcare coverage, or for paths to citizenship for immigrants. Instead, he's spending his time pushing this repressive legislation...ugh!

prws said...

I was completely offended and disgusted by the appalling display of ignorance at the so-called hearing. Not only did Johnson get Oglala wrong, but the whole panel referred to the Peoria Nation as the Illini, because they didn't seem to know the correct name. Which was completely rude when you account for the fact that Johnson said he tried to contact the Peoria at the outset of his comments. Thanks to Prof. K for correcting them on the name of the Peoria Nation. Yet, I was shocked to hear several times that the 'Illinois' Natives are extinct. What the panel didn't know about Indigenous peoples could be a course onto itself--oh, wait, we do have American Indian Studies at UIUC; funny that none of the Native people from the campus community were invited to speak. Also, I was annoyed to hear speakers on the panel put Native peoples on parity with 'beavers' and 'leprechans'--so we're either invisible, mythical, extinct, or animals. Shameful.