Chief Illiniwek was retired as the official mascot at the University of IllinoisUrbana-Champaign (U of I) campus on February 21, 2007. After 90 years as the mascot, several years of heated controversy, and a suspension by the NCAA, the University’s Board of Trustees ruled to discontinue the regular halftime routine of the mascot. At basketball and football games a student dressed in a buckskin costume, feathered headdress, and stern-faced expression would give a performance of what was depicted to be a “war dance.”
Those protestingthe imageand performance of Chief Illiniwek, including academic departments from within the university, the NAACP, Amensty International, and several Native American organizations, have been lobbying the U of I to stop using the image for the past 20 years. They argue the mascot serves as a misappropriation of Native American culture and is a demeaning racial and ethnic stereotype.
The University and supporters of the mascot have long argued that the Chief is a cherished tradition. They contend that his performance is a way honoring the contributions of Native Americans. They also claim that he served as a focal point for the University community and was integral to the experience and spirit of countless fans.
Many athletic organizations in this country, from little league baseball to professional sports teams, use a Native American mascot. The Kansas City Chiefs, the Washington Redskins, and many other leagues have kept their name and mascots despite similar protests. Are their mascotsharmless symbols whose sacrifice would be detrimental to team and community? Who owns an image? If one says something is tribute, is it sufficient? What constitutes homage? In particular, why do we use Native American imagery so frequently as mascots or brands for products?
Join us this week at Café Society to explore this ongoing controversy.
This Week’s Articles:
For more informaiton, please contact Kristin Millikan at 312.422.5580.