FAQ’s about Chief Illiniwek

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Q: Does the Chief portrayer have to be Native American?
A: The chief is open to any current UIUC student regardless of race or gender.

Q: Does the chief have to have been a Boy Scout or Girl Scout?
A: No. This concept most likely stemmed from the fact that part of the Chief tryout process is demonstrating an understanding of Native American culture, a subject matter which former scouts would likely be familiar with.

Q: Who maintains the Chief tradition now that the University has retired the symbol?
A: The Council of Chiefs is an organization comprised exclusively of former Chief portrayers. It is the council who ultimately chooses and oversees actions by the post-retirement Chief portrayers.

Q: What is the role of Chief Illiniwek now that the symbol has been retired?
A: The Chief still appears at select sporting events; however, dancing or appearing on the floor is forbidden. Portrayers are allowed to perform the dance at non-NCAA events and also deliver speeches about the history and culture connected to the tradition.

Q: Why did they even get rid of the Chief?
A: The NCAA made a ruling that schools using Native imagery must get permission from the tribe(s) they are representing. If schools did not comply, they would be banned from hosting post-season tournaments. The Peoria Tribes of Indians of Oklahoma was identified as the only remaining federally-recognized tribe of the Illini confederation, so per NCAA rules, the University needed the tribe’s consent. Although the Peoria Tribe once supported the role, their current official position does not support the use of any Native imagery.

Q: Why do schools such as Florida State get to keep their mascots?
A: The Seminole Tribe of Florida supports their portrayal by FSU, as do the Utes of Utah. Other schools such as San Diego State are allowed to keep their imagery as the Aztecs are not a federally-organized tribe; thus, not covered by the NCAA ruling.

Q: Is there a chance for the Chief to return?
A: Yes. Either the NCAA, Peoria Tribe, or the University could change their decision and allow the Chief to return. Last year (2014), the Peoria announced they would consider re-voting on the issue if the University leadership consented to a return. So far, the Board of Trustees and other University leaders have not revisited the issue.

Q: What can I do to support the Chief tradition?
A: The Honor the Chief Society is the leading organization in preserving the Chief tradition open to community members and alumni alike. Current students can also join Students for Chief Illiniwek, a registered student organization on campus.

Q: What do I say to someone who criticizes me for supporting the Chief?
A: Encourage them to learn more about the issue. The greatest threat to the Chief tradition is that people neither fully know the history of the Chief, nor do they understand the meaning and culture for which it stands.

 

 

Questions about Chief Illiniwek from Critics:

Q: How can you support a racist mascot:
A: I don’t support racist mascots; the Chief is not a racist mascot. The Chief is a symbol and that symbol stands to represent the qualities of unity, honor, and tradition that past tribes and soldiers from Illinois upheld when calling themselves “Illini”.

Q: I’m offended by the Chief . . . shouldn’t that be enough to ban it?
A: Just as you have the freedom to speak out that you are offended, so too should we be allowed the freedom to express our support. Like fixing a car rather than buying a new one, those in support of the Chief tradition strive to make it as respectful as possible rather than abandoning it entirely.

Q: If the Chief tradition is inclusive to all students, why has every Chief portrayer been a white frat boy?
A: That is not the case. Past portrayers and assistants include men and women and draw from those both within and outside of the Greek system. Portrayers have claimed multiple ethnicities from Native to Hispanic.

Q: Does the Chief regalia represent traditional Illini clothing?
A: No. Regalia is modeled after more of a Plains tribe style than what would have been seen in Illinois. The recognizable style was adopted to catch the attention of the public and was continued when Lakota Chief Frank Fool’s Crow presented a new regalia to the University. He saw this as a way to honor the positive way in which the Chief was portrayed. The current regalia is modeled after that regalia, which has been returned to South Dakota.

Q: Is the Chief’s dance authentic?
A: No. Although the dance may have been based upon traditional moves at its inception, each of the 37 subsequent Chief portrayers have made minor alterations to make the dance their own. Because of this, the dance now is almost totally different from when it began in 1926.

Q: How can you defend the Chief when both the dance and attire lack authenticity?
A: The difference is largely in the intent. The Chief’s dance is not meant to represent a specific dance performed in a cultural ceremony. Even modern Native gatherings often feature competitive dancing, featuring dances that have been modified for entertainment purposes and colorful clothing that would not have been traditionally available. These dances serve to catch the attention of the general public, as well as a younger generation of Native children so that they become interested in the culture that these modern performances were based on. These pow-wow dances and the Chief dance alike serve as ways to preserve culture, share it with a new audience, and stimulate interest for further study.

Q: Research done at Illinois shows that the Chief symbol elicits a feeling of aggression and conflict. How can this be true if the Chief is not offensive?
A: This feeling comes from the fact that students are aware of and have experienced the controversy surrounding the symbol and has nothing to do with the symbol itself. In fact, the National Congress of American Indians uses a similar logo.

Q: Stereotyping and offensive imagery are more prevalent than they have ever been on campus. Is the Chief to blame?
A: Quite the opposite, actually. Supporters of the Chief tradition strive to educate students and community members. However, without the support of the University, this role is more difficult to carry out. If anything, the retirement of the Chief allows others more of an opportunity to create their own representations which may perpetuate these issues.

Q: Why keep pushing to have the Chief returned to the University?
A: If the Chief returned, we can cooperate with the University to make sure the Chief continues in the most respectful way possible with added guidance from the University and/or Peoria tribe leaders. Additionally, the reinstatement of the Chief would undoubtedly revive dwindling athletic attendance, as well as boost alumni donations, fostering a better future for Illinois athletics and academics alike.

Q: Why can’t you just get over it and choose a new mascot?
A: We have always had a symbol, not a mascot, and that distinction carries with it a certain honor that has always reflected the dignity of Illinois. No other symbol better mirrors the quality of unity that we share with Illini past and present than the Chief, and nothing else could fill the void left by over 80 years of tradition.

 

-Written by Alex Dozier, Chief Illiniwek XXXVIII (2010-2015).

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