Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reese Response to Schmitt Letter in DI

[UPDATE, OCT 1, 2009: The wrote and posted the entry below yesterday. As you read it now, you will see several lines crossed out. Explanation is at the end of the post, in red font.]

The Daily Illini printed a letter today, written by Paul Schmitt.  My responses to his remarks are in bold.

Schmitt wrote:

"Beyond all the yelling, intimidation, and name-calling associated with the protests of Students for Chief Illiniwek's "the Next Dance", the Friday, Oct. 2nd event promises to deliver to all students one thing: an opportunity to learn about University of Illinois traditions and more importantly the restoration of a culture that is likely not their own."
Will you tell students all you know about the "tradition" you revere? 

Will you tell students that at the time during which the "tradition" started, it was illegal for American Indians to engage in their spiritual and religious practices? 

Will you tell students that Frank Fools Crow did not approve of the way the university was using the regalia it purchased from him?

Will you tell students that his family went before the Executive Committee of the Oglala Tribal Council (Fools Crow was Oglala) and asked them to request the regalia be returned?

Will you tell students that the tribe passed a resolution, delivered to the campus administrators, asking that it be returned?

Will you tell students that a few weeks after that request, the "chief" was officially retired?

Schmitt wrote:
"As an alumnus, former president of SFCI, and former, cloutless member of the Board of Trustees, I encourage all students, regardless of perspective, to attend the free event at the Assembly Hall to expand their perspectives on what once was considered a stagnant debate. The keynote speaker, Mr. Glenn Barnhill, also known as Red Knife, will be speaking on his efforts to restore his own cultural heritage through the Grand Village of the Kickapoo project."
What is this event about, Schmitt? Education? About American Indians? 

There are courses offered by which students can learn that information. Courses taught by Robert Warrior, LeAnne Howe, Jodi Byrd, Matthew Gilbert, John Lowe, and myself, all of whom are tribally enrolled in our respective tribes. Each one of us is active in our tribal nations. Each one of us has a PhD in our area of study. 

Do you, Schmitt, really think that students can learn much from a man who is trying to regain his heritage through participation in a HOBBYIST movement? Goings-on at the "Grand Village of the Kickapoo" were, a few years ago, attended by Kickapoo Indians who no longer live in Illinois. Hobbyist Indians out numbered them, and they quit coming to the Grand Village. Glenn Barnhill's intent may be good, but aligning himself with pro-chief organizations is a step in the wrong direction. How much is Barnhill being paid to attend? 

Remember the Shoshone guy who helped your groups a few years ago? Remember how his tribe sanctioned him for doing that? 

Schmitt wrote:
"If you attend this event you are not a racist, you are not a bigot, and you don't have a closed mind—quite the opposite actually. Student for Chief Illiniwek is offering the UI community an opportunity to look into a different, legitimate cultural perspective and celebrate the University's rich heritage. If you're looking for indoctrinization and closed mindedness, you're better off joining the people who will be picketing outside."
What "different, legitimate cultural perspective" is that, Schmitt? 

Students may not be racist or bigoted or close-minded, but they are definitely ignorant of the history and present-day concerns of American Indians. 

There is a history of people looking for Indians who will validate their positions, their goals, etc. 

Mr. Barnhill may not realize who the students who've invited him are, and what their goals are. 

Government agents looking for an Indian man who would sign a treaty, and today, people looking for Indians to bring on board to projects that benefit from having a Native face. Or, in the case of mascot issues, looking for an Indian to say "this is a good thing." 

One of the former trustees, David Doris, was looking pretty hard for a Native person to validate UIUC's mascot. Doris is tied to the Kickapoo group in some way. When the Kickapoo grounds were purchased, Doris wanted students (he implied he meant Native students) to use the grounds for ceremonial purposes. He was determined, it seemed, to find a way to get UIUC an endorsement from an Indian organization.

For me to blast Barnhill is unfair. I do not know him. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

Deconstructing Information at "Students for Chief Illiniwek" website

The "Honor the Chief" and "Students for Chief Illiniwek" organizations are quick to say that the attire worn by students who portrayed "chief illiniwek" was authentic because they got it from Frank Fools Crow, an Oglala Sioux. Both organizations suggest that Fools Crow endorsed the mascot.

The story they tell, however, is incomplete...

In 2006, Fools Crow's family went to the Executive Committee of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, asking for the Council's assistance in getting the regalia back. On Jan 17th, 2007, the Exec Cmte passed a resolution, asking UIUC to return the regalia.

They asked us at UIUC's Native American House to hold a press conference and read their statement and resolution. In part, the resolution reads:

"Fools Crow was disappointed at the use made of the regalia"


"...the Executive Committee of the Oglala Tribal Council supports the Peoria Tribe of Indians in its request that the University of Illinois recognize the demeaning nature of the characterization of "Chief Illiniwek" and cease use of this mascot."

This resolution threw a huge wrench in the rhetoric used by the university and pro-chief groups.

In the years preceding the Oglala resolution, the university fought the NCAA and NCAA guidelines for use of Native American Mascots.

Though I've not heard anyone say so, I think the resolution was the turning point for UIUC. The resolution was delivered to UIUC administrators and the Board of Trustees on January 17th, 2007. A few weeks later, on Feb. 22nd, 2007, "chief illiniwek" did the "last dance."

Last year, pro-chief groups made a costume modeled after that regalia. A student wore it at an event they called "The Next Dance" at Assembly Hall on November 15, 2008. On October 2, 2009, the pro-chief groups are having another "Next Dance."  

Though UIUC officially ended its use of "chief illiniwek," pro-chief groups continue to pour time, money, and energy into the "chief" and they continue to mislead the public. Contrary to what they say, Fools Crow was not supportive of the mascot.

The "Students for Chief Illiniwek" website reads:

Students for Chief Illiniwek promotes the individual respect and knowledge of Native American cultures through research, formal education, and personal discovery.

How can they promote respect by going against the wishes of the Oglala's and the Peoria's? 

On their website, they say:

For most of his life he [Fools Crow] and his wife Kate lived by simple means in South Dakota on the Pine Ridge reservation.  [...] The regalia that was originally given to the University included a war bonnet with sacred eagle feathers.  Out of respect for Sioux culture, those feathers were returned to the Pine Ridge reservation before being unfortunately lost in a fire.

However, the regalia was not given to the university. It was purchased from Fools Crow. "Students for Chief Illiniwek" romanticize his life by saying he lived by "simple means." In other words, they were broke, in need of money, and, when approached by a former band director, sold the regalia. It sounds to me like exploitation.

And, it was not "out of respect" that the feathers were returned. It was, in fact, illegal for the university to have those feathers. That is why they were returned. The university returned the feathers because having them put them in violation of federal laws about who can have eagle feathers. (See info here: National Eagle Repository.)

"Students for Chief Illiniwek" says it is a progressive organization.  How do they define progressive?

The progressive "Students for Chief Illiniwek" claims to honor Indians and especially Frank Fools Crow, but what does it mean to honor someone? In their honoring, they ignore the wishes of the man at the center of their defense of "chief illiniwek" and the statements issued by two tribal nations: the Peorias and the Oglalas, and all the American Indian tribes and organizations that have issued statements calling for an end to the use of Native imagery in mascots.

The University of Illinois is an educational institution. By not stepping up to educate its students about the history of the "chief illiniwek," the university, be default, lets the pro-chief groups do all the 'educating' on the topic. This is all the more troubling (a mild word) in light of research studies that document the harm of this imagery.  

Send a letter or make a phone call to UI leaders. Addresses and information about upcoming events is at the I-Resist website.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gems from the UIUC archives

Some of this may be in Carol Spindel's book. I found them this morning. UIUC library has a database of digitized Illio (yearbooks) and the like. It's one of those things you can access if you're on faculty/staff or a student. It's called "Illinois Digital Magazine and Yearbook Collection" and it is currently featured at the History, Philosophy & Newspaper Library page. Ray Morales, UIUC student, has done research in the archives, too, producing an outstanding video that was played at the Racism, Power and Privilege Forum.

"A Challenge to the Chief," 1974, p. 154

This page includes a photograph of Clyde Bellecourt. The caption with the photo is "Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder of Aim [sic] spoke on the problems of the American Indian at Lincoln Hall in April."
"Mike Gonzales, the current Chief, said that the only requirement in being considered for the position is an eagle spread jump. However, Gonzales felt that Illiniwek is "majestic" and a symbol of fighting spirit. "In no way does it degrade the American Indian," Gonzales said. "I think Illiniwek honors the Indian."

"John Bitzer, Illiniwek from 1970-73, also defended the role. "Other university mascots are just caricatures but Illiniwek portrays the Indians as they would want to be portrayed."

"The symbol of Chief Illiniwek was removed from University stationary this year to appease AIM."

"From Eagle Scout to Indian Chief", by Jane Karr, Illio, 1974, p. 158
"The outfit was made by 30 Sioux women under the supervision of "an old woman who spoke no English," Borchers said. According to Borchers the woman had helped mutilate General George Custer's body at the Battle of Little Birhorn."

"Borchers spent three weeks on the reservation. "I lived in an Indian tepee with an Indian family," Borchers said. "I was officially taken into the Aoglaoa clan with a sacred pipe ceremony."

"It's the most outstanding tradition at any university in the land, with no intentions of disrespect to the Indians," Borchers said.

"A Tarnished Golden Anniversary" by Steve Pokin, Illio 1974 (or 75?), p. 165.
"As Chief Illiniwek did his soft-shoe number at the bonfire, couples danced to their heart's content at the Homecoming..."
(Note: One of the football players was killed before the game; hence "tarnished" in the characterization of that year's homecoming.)

Illio, 1979, page 73
"The Chief comes alive with the rest of the stadium as he begins what he calls his "frantic dance for three minutes,"

"Chief Illiniwek, according to Gawnee, represents a symbol of the University's athletics and is not what his critics choose to call him - a mascot."

"Yet, some students throughout the year have been bothered by what they call "a media-produced and inaccurate image of native Americans as savage and frenzied hordes" when they watch the Chief exhibit his 80 yard dance."

"The woman who responsible for making the second outfit knew Custer."

"During World War II, Idele Stiths symbolized the fighting spirit as Princess Illiniwek. Although it is traditional for each person portraying the University symbol to sign the war bonnet upon graduation, Stith's name has been removed. The explanation -- in Indian culture it was customary for a woman's place to be behind the horse."

"Maybe there are some who would criticize the Chief for not riding a horse - all Indians ride horses, don't they? Wait, there's an explanation! The second Chief did ride a horse. In fact, he even trained the horse - just like other Indians do."

"Pow Wow '88" in Illio 89, story by Tanja Powers, p. 76:
"A triumphal march, may the Illini scalp Michigan State - The Homecoming Parade got off to a strong but sure start on Friday, October 22, 1988."

"Coach Mackovic offered many words of inspiration, before Tom Livingston performed what looked like a ceremonial dance as Chief Illiniwek XXVI."

"Illini Tradition." 1989 Illio, unsigned, p. 134:
"I alone was drawn there [Memorial Stadium] one weekday afternoon by this strange force, and looking down on Zuppke Field I could faintly see something. A mystical Indian form made his way out on to midfield and began a slow, rhythmic dance which progressed into a frenzy of leaps and twirls. As I felt myself drawn to him, something told me that he was from beyond the realm of the living; indeed, it was Lester Leutwiler, the first Chief Illiniwek. As I approached him he held up a single hand, palm side facing me, and uttered one word: "Sit."

"I crouched onto the astroturf surface and stared awestruck at this form from the past. "What do you wish to see?" he asked. Apparently he was giving me one chance to experience a single great moment of Illni history. My heart began to race....

Livingston then talks about some things that he'd like to see and says ""Show me Red Grange." He suddenly finds himself in the stands with fans cheering Grange. Then just as suddenly, he's alone again on the astroturf.

"Missing: Totem Pole," by Kelly Johnson, Illio 1984, p. 109

(Note: Apparently there was once a totem pole on the football field.)

"The ordeal that shook Champaign-Urbana began one warm summer night when the totem pole was stolen from Memorial Stadium. The theft shocked many University officials, who feared the worst for the football season without the pole's presence at the north end of the field."
It was a prank. The pole was found in a field in St. Joseph by a farmer, Kevin Grice. He brought it back to campus in his truck. It was 16 ft long, and weighed 300 lbs.
"The authentic American Indian totem pole was donated by Barton Cummings, class of 1935, in commenoration of Chief Illiniwek's 50th Anniversary. It was carved by Maurice Dennis, chief of the Abenaki Tribe of Canada and painted by his wife, Juliette."
(Note: I wonder where that pole is now?!)

"Illini Beer--for the spirit of it," by Sheila Doyle, Illio 1984, p. 110:

"Everything from coffee mugs to mittens bears the Illini name, with the newest arrival on the shelves being Illini Beer. This draft was contrived by Freedom Spirit, Inc. in October of 1982."

"Much confusion and misunderstanding has surrounded the beer, but Illini fans have given it a chance. The confusion centered around the approval or disapproval of the product by University of Illinois officials. According to John Burness, Public Relations Director, the University did not give its permission to use the Illini name, but at the same time could not prohibit its use (The Athletic Association has since patented Chief Illiniwek). However, the University's stand on the subject is clear, as seen on each can: "The University of Illinois disclaims all responsibility for the production, marketing, and distribution of this product." This explains why the Chief looks different on the can."

(Apparently, it didn't taste good, so didn't sell well.)