Department ResolutionsFrom the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urging retirement of the school's "Chief Illiniwak" mascot
Department of Anthropology
February 17th, 1998
Dear Members of the Board of Trustees:
We, the undersigned faculty members of the department of Anthropology, wish to commend the Board of Trustees for agreeing to implement a series of significant, positive steps toward achieving a climate conducive to cultural diversity on the UIUC campus. We note, for example, the important addition of new faculty positions in areas of study such as non-Western and US minority cultures. These developments will enable the University of Illinois to build strength through diversity and will allow the Department of Anthropology to maintain its prominent position in national rankings.
Alongside these positive gains, we note with concern that all the recommendations on
inclusivity made to the Board of Trustees have been duly implemented except one: the
retirement of the Chief Illiniwek symbol. We understand that the primary reason given for
this omission was that the Chief is not a subject of academic concern. We strongly
disagree and respectfully request that the Board consider a number of adverse academic
effects on the Department of Anthropology that are directly attributable to the ongoing
presence of the Chief Illiniwek symbol. These effects extend into all aspects of our
scholarly lives teaching, service and research.
Several critical areas deserve attention. The Chief: (i) promotes inaccurate conceptions of the Native peoples of Illinois, past and present; (ii) undermines the effectiveness of our teaching and is deeply problematic for the academic environment both in and outside of the classroom; (iii) creates a negative climate in our professional relationships with Native American communities that directly affects our ability to conduct research with and among Native American peoples; and, (iv) adversely affects the recruitment of Native American students and faculty into our university and department.
(i) The presence of the Chief promotes inaccurate conceptions of the Native peoples
It is our duty as teachers at an outstanding, world-class, national educational institution to provide our students with accurate information. As anthropologists we are particularly responsible for providing accurate information regarding cultural identities, symbolic representations, and social processes. Unfortunately, the image of Chief Illiniwek completely misrepresents the American Indian peoples who lived in what is now the state of Illinois. Historical and archaeological records inform us that theIllini were primarily farmers and people of trade and commerce wholived in settled villages within a loose political confederacy of twelve tribes. The men did not wear war bonnets, nor were they "warriors" in the sense of having military societies like the Plains tribes. To represent the Illini with a Plains Indian war bonnet, to name them the "fighting Illini," and to dress the mascot in the military regalia of a Sioux warrior, is therefore totally inaccurate. It is the direct equivalent of representing Italians or Germans with someone dressed in a Scottish kilt and playing the bagpipes.
In addition, it is frequently claimed that the person portraying the Chief is knowledgeable about Native American cultures, dances and music. The faculty members in our department whose areas of research and teaching focus specifically upon the music and dances of Native North America find this claim untenable. In marked contrast to indigenous dance forms, the choreographed movements performed by the Chief are a combination of stereotyped gestures and steps taken from the Boy Scout movement and Wild West Shows of the 1920s and 30s, supplemented by acrobatic display. The musical accompaniment is likewise a stereotypic misrepresentation derived from early Hollywood movies. As an educational institution we do not promote the teaching of "flat earth" theory in geology; why then are we in the business of promoting inaccurate knowledge about Native Americans. As serious scholars and teachers, charged by the State of Illinois to educate its citizens, we find such an inaccurate portrayal embarrassing and opposed to our educational mission of providing students with knowledge that is accurate and true. Armed with accurate information our students would know that, from the Native perspective, the young man portraying the Chief has not earned the right to wear Lakota Sioux military regalia, just as he has not earned the right to wear a US Marine's uniform and a Purple Heart. They would know that Native American dancing and the wearing of traditional regalia are always connected with spiritual beliefs and practices and so would understand why the Chief's performance as entertainment at a sporting event violates the religious sensibilities of many American Indian people. They would know that American Indians are the only recognized ethnic minority in the US who are still subjected to public stereotyping, and that ethnic stereotyping, however well-intentioned, always misrepresents, and so dishonors, those it portrays.
(ii) The presence of the Chief undermines our teaching effectiveness and is deeply problematic for the academic environment both in and outside of the classroom.
Although it is frequently claimed that the presence of the Chief encourages students to learn about Native American cultures, we find the contrary to be true. The unexamined, sentimental attachment many students hold for the Chief frequently precludes any desire for accurate understanding and thus undermines our teaching effectiveness. For instance, one unintended consequence of the Chief Illiniwek symbol is that it romanticizes and sentimentalizes indigenous peoples and freezes them in a stereotyped past. It thus ignores the historical record which shows that European intrusions into the Northeast and Midwest resulted in more than two centuries of social turmoil that fueled inter-tribal conflicts as well as conflicts between Europeans and indigenous peoples. Under government pressure to cede large tracts of land to European settlers in the early 19th century, the indigenous people of this region were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated west of the Mississippi River. They were subject to arrest and execution if they attempted to remain in their homelands. The romantic symbol of the Chief betrays a lack of awareness of this history of oppression. This, in turn, provides compelling reasons why most contemporary American Indian people strongly object to the suggestion that they are being "honored" by the Chief. These historical facts are uncomfortable for many students to contemplate. They contradict core values of this nation as a land of "liberty, freedom and justice for all." American Indian peoples were excluded from the embrace of these founding principles in the past and are frequently excluded today in ongoing struggles over treaty rights, and economic, educational, and political resources.
As educators, we believe that our students are best served by being taught to understand the complexities of all sides of this history, not by being encouraged to ignore it. The image of the Chief actively discourages such inquiry. We also find that the emotional attachment to the inaccurate and ahistorical image of Native Americans perpetuated by the Chief makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the voices and concerns of contemporary Native peoples to be heard. It is precisely this fact that leads to the truly ironic situation in which those who insist that they are "honoring" American Indians by their use of this symbol steadfastly deny legitimacy to the strenuous objections being voiced by individuals, by tribal groups, and by major national American Indian institutions.
The 1990 census shows that there are over 24,000 American Indians living in Illinois today. There are many thousands more in Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin who are descendants of the former residents of this region. We think that it is incumbent upon this great institution to instigate changes that would make Native American people feel welcome on this campus, and better prepare our students to be responsible and informed citizens of a culturally and historically complex nation. Anthropology is distinctive as a discipline because, from its very inception, it has confronted the problem of how best to teach people to understand the many and diverse cultures of the world. Several of our students have expressed to us directly their dismay and disappointment that the symbol of their school contradicts what they learn in classes about the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and cultural misrepresentation. In addition, developing an anthropological understanding involves a capacity for critical self-knowledge. We find that the attachment some students hold for the Chief frequently overrides critical reflection and undercuts our goals as educators to foster cross-cultural understanding.
For example, one of our faculty members was verbally attacked and called "an anti-white racist" for citing the example of the Chief in a lecture on racial stereotyping. Another reports that he no longer feels able to bring up the subject in the classroom because it is so divisive. Our teaching assistants have reported similar negative experiences. This is one of the ways in which the Chief Illiniwek symbol negatively affects the very heart of the University community, both inside and outside the classroom. A university, by its very nature, entails a commitment to, and respect for, rational thought. In the present context of institutional reluctance to acknowledge the real harm done by such symbols, we find that the presence of the Chief has become a genuine obstacle to learning for significant numbers of our students and creates an academic environment that is resistant to and dismissive of anthropological understanding.
(iii) The presence of the Chief creates a negative climate in our professional relations with Native Americans.
Not only is the symbol of Chief Illiniwek inaccurate for the Illini, it is also
loaded with educational, racial, political, and intellectual implications. Its use has
important consequences, both intended and unintended. Among the unintended consequences is
the tendency among some Native Americans to dismiss our anthropological research or
question our motives simply because we remain part of an institution at which Native
American culture is stereotypically displayed in public. We have archaeologists, cultural,
linguistic, and biological anthropologists who conduct nationally recognized research on
the peoples of the Americas. The presence of the Chief has become a very real impediment
to continuing research in Native communities in the US, and thus threatens to compromise
our ability to enrich our classroom teaching through original
research. In turn, this imperils the demanding research and publication record that faculty members are expected to attain to remain in nationally ranked department. A related and very serious difficulty concerns our efforts to comply with recent civil rights legislation mandating consultation with Native Americans regarding the accessioning and curation of Native American human remains and archaeological materials at the University of Illinois. Specifically, our department must adhere to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-601). Compliance ultimately involves consideration with Native Americans of responsibilities for maintaining archaeological collections and the potential for repatriation of materials that are integral to our educational mission. The process of compliance requires extensive and continuous consultation with Native Americans, and we are finding that the Chief can precipitate negative attitudes on the part of such Native American consultants towards these extremely sensitive negotiations. Retiring the Chief will significantly enhance our chances of reaching mutually positive outcomes in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
(iv) The Chief adversely affects the recruitment of Native Americans into our department and our university.
Our faculty member whose teaching and research directly involves contemporary
Native peoples reports that the Chief Illiniwek symbol is well known in many Native
American communities across the country. For example, at a Native American college
recruitment event last year, several young Native persons who were well qualified as
potential UIUC students expressed their reluctance to consider applying to UIUC . When
asked why, they said they expected to find an "anti-Indian," racist climate on
this campus to which they were not willing to subject themselves. These potential students
reasoned, quite correctly, that an institution cannot use a symbol such as Chief Illiniwek
as its sports mascot and at the same time sincerely support a policy of ethnic inclusivity
and cultural diversity. As a result of the Chief, such talented individuals have been
We have demonstrated how the symbol of Chief Illiniwek affects us academically: it promotes inaccurate knowledge; undermines the effectiveness of our teaching; creates an academic environment dismissive of anthropological understanding and cultural diversity; threatens our professional relationships with Native American peoples; and adversely affects recruitment. The symbol that once created a sense of unity and pride for earlier generations now works in the opposite direction: the Chief has become a focus of division and escalating tension within the campus community and is a source of shame and embarrassment for many students and faculty. As anthropologists we understand and appreciate the strong attachment many alumni have to the Chief as a symbol of the good times they wish to remember; as a symbol that expresses their desire to feel connected to this landscape and its history; and as a symbol that signifies pride in the tradition of a great educational institution. However, we also believe that our alumni can recognize the significance of social and cultural change and that traditions in and of themselves are not always honorable when times and moral sensibilities change.
Symbols are powerful icons that convey complex messages with lasting impact. It is therefore important to choose symbols with full understanding of the many meanings they may hold. Prior to the civil rights era of the 1960s the use of cultural symbols that harmfully stereotyped ethnic minorities was perceived as unproblematic by people sharing mainstream culture. Our nation's commitment to civil rights during the 1960s revealed the fundamental constitutional flaws of this view. Today, we believe that to acknowledge, understand and celebrate cultural diversity is not a threat to a unified nation. It is instead the very means by which a vibrant, creative, multi-ethnic society can develop with pride and confidence in the 21st century. The citizens of Illinois have the highest possible standards to attain in meeting this goal; standards defined and embodied by Lincoln himself that obligate us to pursue a more inclusive society with vigor. We are confident those standards are within reach. We are equally certain that courageous leadership from the State's leading academic institution will be necessary to achieve them.
Janet Dixon Keller (Chair)
Department of History, 4 March 1998
Whereas the Department of History seeks to employ a historian of Native Americans;
Whereas the symbol of Chief Illiniwek is demeaning to Native Americans and historically inaccurate, creating unnecessary difficulties in the recruitment of Native American faculty and students; and
Whereas the Department of Anthropology has presented a reasoned and persuasive argument to the Board of Trustees for the removal of the Chief as a symbol or logo of this University;
The Department of History resolves to affirm its support for Anthropology's position, and urges the University Senate and the Board of Trustees to secure the removal of the Chief as the symbol of the University.
College of Medicine
March 18, 1998
Dear Chancellor Aiken and Members of the Board of Trustees:
The Full-Time Salaried Faculty of the College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign wish to inform you by way of this petition of their overwhelming support for the resolution passed on March 9, 1998 by the UIUC Senate that calls for the retirement of Chief Illiniwek. We view this as a serious issue and urge your immediate attention to this.
A PETITION to Michael Aiken, Chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and The University of Illinois Board of Trustees
Whereas, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign should pride itself on promoting an atmosphere of cultural diversity, free of racial strife and deleterious ethnic stereotyping, and
Whereas, it is only in such an environment that educational opportunities are fully accessible to all qualified citizens of Illinois, and
Whereas, the caricature of Chief Illiniwek, the impersonation of a Native American at University events, and the ethnic stereotypes these portray (i) contravene the mission of the University to provide an educational atmosphere free of racial strife and rich in cultural diversity, and (ii) deny educational opportunities to all qualified citizens of Illinois, and
Whereas, the continued existence of Chief Illiniwek as an ethnic stereotype usurps from an entire ethnic group of people the right to define themselves,
We petition that,
The University Administration and Board of Trustees immediately retire Chief
Illiniwek and discontinue licensing Native
American Indian symbols as representations of the University.
Best, Philip - Department Head
Cronan, John - Department Head
Doe, Chris - Howard Hughes Professor
Gillette, Martha - University Scholar
Greenough, Bill - Swanlund Chair, National Acad. Science
Gumport, Richard - Associate Department Head
Horwitz, Alan F. - Department Head
Kemper, Byron - Department Head
Salyers, Abigail A.
Sherwood, Orrin D.
Resolution of the Center for African Studies Advisory
At its meeting on March 18, 1998 the Advisory Committee of the Center
for African Studies unanimously voted, on behalf of the faculty and
students affiliated with the Center, to affirm its support for
Anthropology's persuasive and reasoned argument to the Board of
Trustees for the removal of the Chief as a symbol or logo of this
The Center urges the University and the Board of Trustees to secure
the removal of the Chief as the Symbol of the University.
Stephen J. Kaufman, Ph.D.
University of Illinois