In 2007, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) officially retired its mascot, Chief Illiniwek, from the field due to pressure from the NCAA. In 2010, the “chief” continues to dance on campus and his presence is continually felt on campus, kept alive by a registered student organization known as Students for Chief Illiniwek. The “chief” symbol has long been a politically charged issue on the UIUC campus, perpetuating a hostile racial campus climate. Additionally, it continues to divide the campus and does not allow for students to unite around a non-offensive mascot.
Prior to the “chief's” retirement in 2007, the university was unwilling and reluctant in taking a stance against this obvious and blatant form of racism against Native American tribes and cultures. Time and time again, the university refused to end the issue by retiring the “chief”; in fact, it took many years of activism on campus and the attention of organizations such as the NCAA for the university to finally concede their using of this mascot. As such, through their lack of action, the university was in fact only further fueling the issue by not taking a strong stance against the “chief” but rather giving this responsibility to social justice activists.
Allowing the persistence of a racist symbol such as the “chief” on campus only further divides the campus, and does not allow for progress to be made in regards to the seeking of a new mascot, one that is truly inoffensive. Instead, through its indifference, the university continued to support racism on its campus, and allowed this to persist without addressing the needs of students.
In allowing the Students for Chief Illiniwek the space on campus to continue hosting the “next dance” of the “chief”, the university has created a space where the “chief” can continue to thrive. In allowing this “next dance” the university has done very little to demonstrate that an education should be one that prepares one to live in a democratic society, and can provide students with the tools necessary for critical discussions and discourses regarding power, privilege, and race relations in the U.S. We demand that the university finally decide that it must take action on this issue in order to effectively address increasing racial tensions and racial hostility.
Photo credit: Matt Wright via Wikimedia
Use of the “chief” symbol has long been a politically charged issue at UIUC, both helping to create as well as perpetuate a hostile racial campus climate. Additionally, the ongoing presence of 'the chief' continues to divide the campus, and makes it very difficult for students to unite around a new, inoffensive mascot.
We have created this petition in order to call upon the university administration to take proactive measures and adopt a strong public stance against the use of the “chief” and his continued presence on this campus. It is time that the entire UIUC community take action against the racial hostility that persists on this campus which is fueled in no small part by the ongoing presence of a stereotypical, racist, inaccurate portrayal of Native Americans that the “chief” embodies.
Therefore, in this petition, our demands for the university are two-fold: enforcement of trademarks and property rights, and the creation of a new mascot.
We demand that all “cease and desist” letters from the university to Students for Chief Illiniwek, to the Honor the Chief Society, and to the Chief Lives organizations be fully implemented. In the absence of full, timely compliance, we demand the university immediately take legal action to address the failure of these organizations to comply. When the university issues such letters, there should be no excuse as to why it cannot follow up on them. Simply sending “cease and desist” letters for the purpose of symbolic action does nothing to effectively address the issue at hand, and it allows the Students for Chief Illiniwek to continue their ongoing and blatant violations of the demands described therein.
Further, we demand the university undertake all necessary measures to publicly dissociate the name "Fighting Illini" from any and all Native American imagery and associations. This action was strongly urged by the NCAA as part of the compromise that allowed the university to continue to use "Fighting Illini", and we demand that the university comply with both the spirit and the letter of this request without further delay. Alternatively, the university should remove all future reference to "Fighting Illini" from its sports program, and other campus and marketing uses of that term.
Also, we demand an immediate end to the band's playing the Chief's Dance music -- known as the 'Three in One' -- at half-time, and to create a half-time show that does not offer an opportunity for the current, unofficial 'chief' to perform in the stands.
We also demand that the university take more proactive measures in finding a new mascot, something that would stand in place of the “chief” and which would allow for a greater sense of campus unity. The university, in this process, needs to set deadlines for itself and continually keep the campus informed of its decisions and steps towards progressing towards this goal. Merely creating a committee to discuss the creation of a new mascot -- which, since its inception, has made no significant progress in this task -- is again not sufficient to address such a divisive issue.
Until the university matches its actions to its rhetoric, this issue will only continue to negatively impact the campus climate and campus community.