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"

And,

"...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.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Great post Debbie.