Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Today, March 13, 2007, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted publicly to discontinue use of Chief Illiniwek.
  • A resolution was put forth for a public vote.
  • Trustee Carroll amended the resolution, adding text that revokes the 1990 resolution that "retained" the chief as UI's symbol. She also inserted language that says Chancellor Herman will have full responsibility for resolving the issue.
  • Trustee Dorris spoke against the resolution, at length.
  • Trustee Sperling acknowledged the heartfelt sentiments of pro chief people, saying he felt that way at one time, too, and is sad that it has to end, but that it is important to let it go and move on.
  • Dorris continued, developing a legal argument re the by-laws, procedure, etc.
  • Trustee Montgomery (newly appointed) intervened saying the legal discussion does not take precedence over a moral issue, stating this is a MORAL issue and is about doing what is right.
  • The BOT then voted. Only Dorris voted against the resolution.
I've been working alongside other Native people and our allies on this issue since I came here in 1994. THIS is the closure we've been working towards.

The announcement made by BOT Chair Eppley in February was unsatisfying, because it did not acknowledge what is WRONG with the chief illiniwek. Today's BOT meeting was different. It acknowledged what is wrong.

In particular, Trustee Sperling said he did not ever (speaking emphatically) want to sit and listen to another UIUC Native student describe her/her experiences on this campus with this issue. The student who spoke today is Genevieve Tenoso (with her permission, her remarks are below).

If you want to read press on this, google "illiniwek" (then click on the 'news' tab) and you'll find a great many articles. If you want to read our local (conservative, pro-chief) paper's coverage, go here:
UI Trustees Approve Resolution to end Chief Illiniwek.

The BOT also voted NOT to join a lawsuit being brought against the NCAA, by the two students who portray chief illiniwek. I do think we're at a definitive moment today.

The school will retain the name "Fighting Illini" --- and remake "Illini" such that it does not have any Native imagery or association. Whether they will be successful or not is a question and concern, but I do think we've turned a corner. It is my preference that they get rid of "Illini" too and begin anew with an entirely new sports team name, logo, and mascot.


Good morning.

My name is Genevieve Tenoso, I am a Lakota/Ojibwa graduate student in Anthropology, and I am here today in order to speak to you about courage.

In my first year here, I was asked to write an essay that said something about who I was and what I hoped to accomplish.

I wrote about my grandmother. A strong, intelligent woman who put aside her own dreams of higher education in order to raise a family, and then later, my sister and myself.

That took enormous courage. To know just how much she was giving up, but to go ahead and do it anyway, because she knew we needed her.

In that essay I said that I wanted to pick up where she left off all those years ago when she was, like me, standing on the threshold of life, with paths before her branching off in every direction. Every road lined with seemingly endless opportunities.

But I am here today, in order to tell you that because of choices you've made, or failed to make, I haven't had one, single day on this campus when something didn't remind me that there is a big difference between the “Indian” you'd prefer me to be, and the living, breathing Native person that I am.

I am here in order to let you know that I am not alone in feeling this way, that for many of us, just simply coming to school is an act of courage. That because of choices you've made, or failed to make, we know that the color of our skin, the faiths we believe in, or the people we choose to love mean the difference between a rich, rewarding academic experience, and one fraught with stress, tension and fear.

I'd like to think that I am, like my grandmother, both brave and strong, but I stand before you today in fear.

Afraid for my future, and frightened for my life. I've been taunted, maligned and threatened for nothing more than standing up and saying “you have no right to lie about who I am; about who other Native people are".

That, takes courage. but courage is more than just facing your fears.

Courage is standing up for what you know is right, not just getting away with whatever you can.

Courage is accepting responsibility for your actions, not just washing your hands of them and claiming your conscience is clear.

Courage is answering hard questions, it's showing up and being willing to listen to those who may tell you things you'd rather not hear.

You were invited to the forum on Racism, Power and Privilege at UIUC and you didn't even bother to show up. No one on this board could take the time to come and listen to the people who are most affected by the racial tensions on this campus. The people whose lives your choices have real consequences for.

You didn't show up because you didn't have to.

I was there, just like I am here, because I have to be.

When someone threatens to put a tomahawk into your face, you have to either stand your ground, or run away. When you discover that there are people who would rather butcher you like an animal than have you disagree with them, you have to react. You have no choice.

When the administration looks the other way while students of privilege commit these kinds of acts of psychic violence, none of us have a choice anymore.

And in a climate which progressively moves toward bolder and bolder acts of hate and intolerance, a time will surely come when no one at the university will be able to come away and say they have a clear conscience.

Every time you fail to show courage, we have to.

I'm no fool. I wouldn't put myself in harms way in order to satisfy some personal whim. I am here in order to speak for all of those who should be here, but couldn't be. I am here especially for all of those who we hope will be here someday, and in whose cause I am willing to risk much.

I am here to say that though I fear for myself, my hope gives me courage, because I know that with every wall I help to tear down, and every obstacle we remove, those who come after will be able to get just a little bit farther before they have to start fighting the same battles I've had to fight.

Maybe someday, through our combined efforts, we can clear that path and make this University a place of opportunity for all people. Maybe someday you will publicly acknowledge your part in creating an atmosphere where intolerance and bigotry and hate are the natural consequences of excessive school spirit.

Maybe someday you will show courage.

Until then. We will have to. I will have to.

In this place of learning, I sincerely hope you will learn from our example

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