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.