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Hail to the Chief

In the past, this fearless blog has discussed war, abortion, euthanasia, torture, and Republicans.  We’ve invited applause and brickbats from all quarters.  But we’ve had our limits, too.  For not until today has this blog dared to address the truly controversial and disturbing question of . . .

Chief Illiniwek.

But before I get to “the Chief,” I just want to point out that although I know less about college basketball than I know about smooth jazz, I have Illinois beating North Carolina in the NCAA finals.  In fact, if I were taking part in this March Madness competition among sports savants, I would be in second place with 860 points.  And I think that the really amazing thing about the Illini’s comeback against Arizona last Saturday was not that they erased a 15-point deficit in four minutes, but that they erased a eight-point deficit in eleven seconds.  So: go Illini.

And let me join King Kaufman in offering kudos to the University of Illinois for deciding to leave the Chief behind when the Illini travel to St. Louis this weekend.

I lived with the Chief for twelve years when I taught at Illinois, and for most of those years I didn’t think much about him.  Sure, it’s embarrassing to have a white college kid in Native regalia dancing around a football stadium at halftime, but it really wasn’t on my list of the world’s Top Thousand Injustices.  What astonished me, though, was the depth of emotion on the pro-Chief side.  It wasn’t the in-your-face, I’m-politically-incorrect-and-lovin’-it demeanor of the defenders of the Confederate flag; it was a weird combination of truculence and sappy sentimentality.  Yes, I know some of the Stars and Bars fans can get weepy about their “heritage,” too.  But this was qualitatively different: these people honestly believed that they were paying solemn tribute to Native American people and culture, and that the Chief was a dignified figure whose halftime dances were august and reverential remembrances of the Illini of yesteryear.  (Though I will never forget the acerbic graduate student who said, “you know, if historical accuracy is what they’re after, they should symbolically kill the Chief after every dance.") Conservative politicians tried to pass a state law designating the Chief as the symbol of the university, and local figures in and around Champaign-Urbana organized a “Save the Chief” campaign that continues to this day.  (You can check out the “Chief Illiniwek Educational Foundation” website for handy pro-Chief material.) The intensity of that campaign has driven more than one chancellor from office at the University of Illinois, because for most of the people in a fifty-mile radius around Champaign-Urbana, the most important thing about the University of Illinois is not that its faculty in the sciences invented the transistor and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, nor that its programs and conferences in the humanities are internationally known, nor even that its extraordinary library is the third largest in the nation, behind only Harvard and the Library of Congress.  In the prairie precincts of the Prairie State, they don’t give a shit about the library.  Nobody wants to fund that thing.  No, what they care about is the Chief.

By the late 1990s, I’d had quite enough of this nonsense, so I chimed in on the anti-Chief campaign begun by Native American activist and former Illinois graduate student Charlene Teters and led, among the faculty, by Steve Kaufman of the liberally-biased Department of Cell and Structural Biology.  When Steve asked for supporting letters, to be sent both to trustees and to the accreditors of the Middle States Association (we wanted them to consider the impact of the Chief in their assessment of the university, and they agreed), I wrote back and said, among other things,

the emotions and arguments of the Chief’s ardent local supporters have close analogies in minstrelsy, which was vigorously defended, 100-150 years ago, as a vehicle for and tribute to authentic African American humor.  (Today, these defenses of minstrelsy are either merely laughable or utterly unthinkable, and no sensible person would seek to revive them.) Similarly, the Chief’s supporters insist on the “dignity” of this figure, and the “tradition” that underwrites his continued appearance.  Yet no American university that wanted to think of itself, as Illinois rightly does, as a “world-class institution” would offer up a minstrel show at its athletic performances, regardless of how passionately attached to such shows anyone had become.  Imagine, if you will, the further spectacle of alumni and trustees and state representatives testifying to their deep love of these humorous characters whose noble culture is enshrined in the revered tradition of the minstrel show.  Such a spectacle would properly be seen, in 1999, not so much as a slur against African Americans as a shameful acknowledgment that the university offering the spectacle – and the people cheering it on – had no idea whatsoever that the racial discourse of 1900 was no longer appropriate to the year 2000.

Well, you get the drift.  When people talk about liberal college faculty being out of step with the rest of the nation, think of this: in places like Champaign-Urbana, the college faculty are the only mass of liberals to be found for miles and miles, from Chicago to St. Louis.  The contrast with the immediately surrounding environs is stark and undeniable – and it is both reflected and heightened by clashes like those over the Chief.

I saw the Chief in action precisely once.  I attended a number of football and basketball games during my time at Illinois, but for one reason and another I did not see the halftime show until 1997.  It was during a basketball game against Minnesota, and I was sitting with then pre-adolescent Nick and one of his friends, when suddenly a bunch of white folks in bright orange sweaters and T-shirts ran onto the court and took up positions on the perimeter, ringing the court in orange.  As they clapped and smiled and bounced, on came the Chief himself.  It was a profoundly cringe-inducing experience.  The Chief’s supporters insist that his routine is “loosely patterned after Native American fancy dance”; now, I know even less about Native dance than I know about smooth jazz, but I am not aware of any indigenous dance forms that involve lots of splits and jumping and touching your toes in mid-air.  I turned to Nick and said, “never mind the debate about whether the Chief is racist– this stuff should be banned for sheer cheesiness alone.” But I said it sotto voce.

For as I watched and cringed and cringed some more, I noticed that sure enough, people around me were cheering and tearing up.  And I began to think, this is as much a cultural divide as a political one, a divide between those with a liberal cringe reflex and those without.  Surely, for my fellow Illinois fans, my visceral reaction to the Chief was just the mirror image of their visceral reaction to the Chief – except that mine was defined by what they would see as an elitist, nose-pinching, PC rectitude that symbolizes everything wrong with liberal college professors.  I don’t have any problem with the name “Illini,” actually—or, for that matter, with the name “Illinois.” But the Chief and his halftime dance are another order of thing altogether.  Please, I thought, let this hopping-and-skipping minstrel show end, and let’s get back to basketball.  I didn’t come here to meditate on town and gown – or on what we’d now call blue and red America.  I just came here to watch Illinois defeat the culturally innocuous, inoffensively-named Golden Rodents Of Some Kind.

Oops!  Sorry about that, Minnesota fans.  Really, your little gophers are OK with me.  But now, back to business:  go Illini, crush the culturally innocuous, inoffensively-named Louisville Cardinals.  And once again, kudos for leaving the Chief in Champaign, where he will not distract attention from a fine, fine basketball team.

Next week’s topic: the University of North Dakota hockey team and their fabulous new rink!

Posted by on 03/31 at 01:40 PM
  1. For absurdity’s sake, you should be rooting for UNC (and because I’m in Chapel Hill - does that count for nothing with you, Michael?) so that you could discuss the provenance and derogatory undertones of the ‘tarheel’ in a historical setting.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  03:18 PM
  2. In the past, this fearless blog has discussed war, abortion, euthanasia, torture, and Republicans.

    I’m a little queasy at the thought of actually torturing Republicans, but your other proposals seem fine to me.

    Nice post, and might I point out here’s yet another reason for us Coast-Staters to feel that lovely smug feeling as we reflect upon our heartland brethren and sistern. How fortunate that such stereotyping is restricted to flyover country! Imagine the uproar and embarassment if such offensive practices took root in our major cities, if a similar stereotype was adopted by - say - a major league football franchise in - say - our nation’s capital!

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/31  at  03:24 PM
  3. Chris, that would be absurd.  You’re suggesting that a major league football franchise would participate in the same kind of stereotyping?  Next you’ll be telling me that they don’t even have a legitimate tribal name, but rather a foul racial slur that also alludes to the practice of “scalping.”

    And Rob, while the Tar Heels are not as culturally innocuous as the Cardinals or the Spartans (though I suppose we should rename the Michigan Wolverines the “Athenians” for the sake of balance), I just want to point out that the University of North Carolina had the good sense to appoint, as its mascot, not a sticky-heeled representation of Johnny Reb, but . . . a ram.  Surely the Illini can take a page from that book, and get themselves a sheep or a goat.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  03:30 PM
  4. I think the tide has changed as far as changing the racist stereotype mascots is concerned.  St John’s has been awful since changing from Redmen to Red Storm.  While I think it was a good move to get rid of Redmen, they really should not have chosen a Tom Clancy-inspired communist military threat.

    Speaking of Cardinals...I was really disappointed when I went to Catholic U. for grad school.  I was hoping to see a guy in red robes and mitre doing cartwheels down the sidelines.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  03:34 PM
  5. Well, Michael, that’s clearly why we deserve to win this weekend, right? Such stellar judgement!

    That said, I don’t think I could have, in good conscience, attended a Johnny Reb-mascotted university. So thank goodness for randomly-chosen, innocuous mascots that appear otherwise totally unconnected to the university!

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  03:43 PM
  6. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Steve Kaufman’s research involves the extracellular matrix?  He may say he’s trying to cure Muscular Dystrophy, but I think his baseless attacks on the proud heritage of Chief Illiniwek betray his true Neo-Lysenkoism.  Meanwhile, I’ll bet you a can of authentic Kentucky Burgoo against whatever soybean/corn abomination is considered native south-central Illinois cuisine that the innocuous but dangerous UL Cardinals defeat the Fighting Illini.

    Posted by corndog  on  03/31  at  03:44 PM
  7. Thank you for saying this.  I’m pretty conservative about a lot of things which is why I appreciate the cringe factor.  I guess that I can be pretty elitist too. 

    Over at pandagon, Amanda Marcotte had a post up decrying the movement to ban smoking in Austin’s bars.  She sees it as a Trojan horse, intended to turn downtown into a giant Gap-ified Mall.  I don’t like smoking, and I’d hate to have to work in a a bar that allowed it (I can barely stand to walk past smokers on the street without coughing), but I appreciate where she’s coming from.  djw of Lawyers, Guns and Money told Amanda that he thought she was letting her aesthetics get in the way of her politics, but what if your politics are tied up inextricably with aesthetics?

    As an Episcopalian with high Anglican sympathies (a sort of quasi Anglo-Catholic), I know that my religion is tied up with aesthetics, and I know that was pretty damn political during the English civil war when Cromwell went around destroying stain glass and you had to hide the good chalices in the basement.

    So I ask again, what if the aesthetics are part of the politics?

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  03:44 PM
  8. The University of North Dakota’s hockey team are damn good.  They took on the #1 team in the country, BC, and made them look like the Hartford Whalers.  But they have a questionable nickname-- the Fighting Sioux.  And their jerseys feature a large Indian head cartoon, kind of the Chicago Blackhawks insignia only more colorful.

    I don’t know if they have a skating Sioux mascot or not.  Hockey mascots are limited by the fact that they have to skate.  There are some goofy ones anyway.  During the first intermission of the Hockey East championship game they had a broom hockey matchup between the Hockey East mascots.  The most insulting one was the Providence Friar, who is a guy with a brown hooded bathrobe and a big plastic head.  (In case you’re wondering, yes the Boston University Terriers do have a skating Boston Terrier for a mascot...)

    The Illini deserve demerits just for having a boring name.  It would be as if the U of North Dakota decided to call its team the North Dakota North Dakoti grin

    Posted by Tim Horrigan  on  03/31  at  03:48 PM
  9. It’s east central Illinois, corndog, and you’re on.

    Abby, that’s a great question.  I gave up smoking 15 years ago but have never had the fervor of the convert-- in fact, I expect that if (just if) I were to walk into a bar, I would be sharing the space with smokers.  At the same time, I want to respect the wishes of people (especially bartenders!) who don’t feel like breathing in a few packs of secondary smoke all day.  What Amanda’s right about-- though I disagree with the Gap-ification argument-- is that anti-smoking ordinances have now taken on the phantasmic appearance of dictates by the liberal elite (witness the Bay Area and New York, where the anti-smoking laws are positively fierce), and to the same degree, smoking is associated with people who have little or no cultural capital.  So yeah, to those people, anti-smoking laws look like a version of liberal prudery and finger-wagging.  See also, under this heading, gun control.

    Just please don’t ask me how I feel about gambling.  That one makes my head hurt.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  03:54 PM
  10. I haven’t read such a trenchant observation on collegiate competition since the USC Trojans were unmanned by the Beavers of Oregon State.  Thank you.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  04:02 PM
  11. Sorry, Michael, but I’m having a hard time getting past your second paragraph.  Wrong choice, dude.


    <lights Essence of Dean Smith scented candle>*

    *Available exclusively at the Shrunken Head.  Those who have had the privilege of living in Chapel Hill or walking up Franklin St. will know this venerable institution.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  04:14 PM
  12. You may now proceed with analysis of sports fanaticism and colonial stereotypes vis-à-vis the Shrunken Head.  Oh, here’s a link for you.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  04:23 PM
  13. Forgive my ignorance of the nuances of Land of Lincoln geography.  I thought anything below Comiskey Park was considered southern Illinois.

    Posted by corndog  on  03/31  at  04:41 PM
  14. SneakySnu, that website is derogatory to Headshrinking-Americans.

    And Tim:  yes, the Fighting Sioux are an intense team-- and the fighting over the name “Fighting Sioux” is, if anything, even more intense than the dispute over the Chief.  The new rink was built with a $100 million donation by a controversial alumnus, Ralph Engelstad.  He’s a long story, but here’s a short version:

    The 11,400-seat arena features 48 luxury boxes, 300 TV monitors placed everywhere from concession areas to restrooms, and 100,000 square feet of granite floors and countertops—much of it imported from India and Italy.

    A former goalie for UND, Engelstad, 70, has owned the Imperial Palace since 1971. He was fined $1.5 million in 1989 by state gaming authorities for throwing a Nazi-themed party and was honored by the first President Bush for his efforts in employing the handicapped.

    What a bizarre political palimpsest—a disability-friendly guy with a Hitler fetish.  It just goes to show you that goaltenders are insane.

    Posted by Michael  on  03/31  at  04:43 PM
  15. Support the Fighting Whites of Northern Colorado:

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  04:52 PM
  16. My favorite mascot of all-time was Shasta, the heavily sedated University of Houston cougar. Real live cougar. Sometimes, when the football team was losing by 30 or more, they would let her out of the cage to maul the opposing quarterback. Or I was high.

    This is an open thread, right?

    Posted by norbizness  on  03/31  at  05:17 PM
  17. I, like you, have never found myself roused to include the ethnic representation of school mascots among my list of ten thousand major injustices in the world.  And I never thought much of the comparisons that the anti-chief forces would make when they asked, how would you like it if there were a team named the New York Jews?  Well, low and behold, this week the New York Times told us about the Ajax soccer team in Amsterdam that for some reason is known as the Jews and whose fans think that they are honoring Jews.  Hard to maintain that with a straight face though when you learn that opposing fans hiss like gas to chant against Ajax and Ajax fans hold up banners that read - Revenge for 1940-1945 at a match against a German team (me-thinks they seem to have a hard time comprehending the scale and duration of the Holocaust).  Insisting that teams be named after animals is unlikely to soothe PETA.  So maybe Harvard and Stanford are onto something and in the future all teams should be named after colors.  At least until the anti-color demation lobby galvanizes opposition to color stereotyping.  But the economist in me wants to suggest that you are free to have any name and symbol you like, as long as you are willing to pay for it.  If Sears, Kmart and Havrard can own their names, why can’t a tribe own it’s name and insist on being paid for the use of the name and associated logos and mascots?  At least they could then name the price and the name certainly belongs more to actual descendants of the Illini than to alumni of the institution.  Until then, Go BLUE.  Go Red.  Go Crimson!

    Posted by Dr. Kwanda  on  03/31  at  05:17 PM
  18. PETA wouldn’t have any problem with naming teams after animals-- you’re thinking of PENA, People for the Ethical Naming of Animals.  Apparently they got their start by campaigning against the University of Santa Cruz Banana Slugs and, if memory serves, the Texas Christian University Hallucinogenic Frogs.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  05:37 PM
  19. If Sears, Kmart and Havrard can own their names, why can’t a tribe own it’s name and insist on being paid for the use of the name and associated logos and mascots?  At least they could then name the price and the name certainly belongs more to actual descendants of the Illini than to alumni of the institution.

    Ah. But Where Are They Now?


    Without enough warriors to defend their land, the Illini placed themselves under American protection. At Vincennes in August, 1803, the Kaskaskia chief Jean Baptiste Ducoign (DuQuoin), representing the Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Michigamea, and Tamaroa, signed a treaty with Harrison ceding his people’s remaining Illinois lands (almost 9 million acres) for $12,000 and two small tracts of 250 and 1280 acres near Kaskaskia. Ducoign got a house and 100 acres for his role. Since the Illini only controlled a fraction of this territory, their cession of it was a sweet revenge upon the tribes living there who had taken these lands from them in 1769. It took Harrison several additional treaties to straighten this out with the other tribes, but the Illini cession had opened the door. American expansion continued with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 which put the Illini at the center of the United States rather than its western boundary. In 1809 Illinois was separated from Indiana and became a separate territory.

    Harrison’s success in extracting land cessions finally provoked the rise of Tecumseh and his brother, The Prophet. With a call for unity to oppose further land cessions to the Americans, Tecumseh soon built a large following, especially among the tribes in Illinois country. Considering their terrible experience with Pontiac and how little land they still had, the Illini rejected his overtures and supported the Americans during the War of 1812 (1812-14). The conflict ended in stalemate between Great Britain and the United States, but for Native Americans, it meant total defeat with the Americans able to deal with the tribes east of the Mississippi in whatever manner they chose. What they chose was for Native Americans to be moved west Mississippi and away from white settlement. This included tribes as small and acculturated as the Illini.

    Illinois joined the union as the 21st state in 1818, and the Illini met with Ninian Edwards and Auguste Chouteau, at Edwardsville in September and signed away their last holdings in Illinois for about $6,000 and agreed to move across the Mississippi to St. Genevieve, Missouri. The Peoria, who had not been a party to the treaty at Vincennes in 1803, also signed, but were not required to move since they had already relocated west of the river on their own initiative. This was only temporary. After Missouri became a state in 1821, pressure by white citizens soon had the federal government looking for new places in the west to relocate eastern tribes. In October, 1832 the leaders of 140 remaining Illini met with William Clark (George Rogers’ kid brother) at Castor Hill (St. Louis) and in exchange for all their claims to land in Illinois and Missouri, were given 150 sections in eastern Kansas.

    Harassed by Kansas taxes illegally levied on their allotted land, the Confederated Peoria, Kaskaskia, Wea, and Piankashaw in 1867 signed an omnibus treaty with the other Kansas tribes in which they agreed to dispose of their remaining Kansas holdings and move to lands to be purchased from the Quapaw in northeast Oklahoma. A few families chose the citizenship permitted by the treaty and remained in Kansas.

    Their new lands in Oklahoma did not last long. Allotted between 1893 and 1907, the remaining lands were given to Ottawa county, Oklahoma for white settlement. Fraud and corruption soon too the rest. Oklahoma was admitted as a state in 1907, but by this time there was no longer any place left to move native peoples to keep them away from white settlement. The Peoria finally got to stay. Perhaps because it had heard the story that the last Illini had died at Starved Rock in 1769, the federal government terminated the Peoria’s tribal status in 1950. Claims for the massive fraud that had accompanied the sale of their Kansas lands were finally settled in 1974, but federal recognition was not restored until 1978. With a current enrollment of nearly 2,000 and 39 acres of tribal land, the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma is located in Miami, Oklahoma.

    Posted by Dan  on  03/31  at  05:57 PM
  20. The Houston Cougar story reminds me of the Columbia Lion. (We should have been the Columbia Doves, I suppose, but there is actually is a semi-logical explanation for the Lion nickname...) During the basketball games, the announcer would often refer to promotions atbels, etc. being located “by the statue of the lion.” It actually wasn’t a statue: it was a stuffed lion in a vitrine, which some alumnus had killed on a safari a few decades earlier.

    Posted by Tim Horrigan  on  03/31  at  05:58 PM
  21. Apparently they got their start by campaigning against the University of Santa Cruz Banana Slugs and, if memory serves, the Texas Christian University Hallucinogenic Frogs

    “Go, Reds! Lick them Frogs!”

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/31  at  05:59 PM
  22. ...and Google some more:

    On Crossfire, Novak echoed other Illinois fans when he claimed, ‘There was no intention to have these Indian nicknames offensive. We have a tremendous war dance by Chief Illiniwek. [ed: Ha!] Isn’t this part of the deep American tradition of respect for the fighting qualities of the Indians who gave the white people such a hard time on the battlefield?’ [ed: Ha-ha!]

    That ‘respect’ came about as Native Peoples were being subjected to the slow torture of confinement, starvation and deculturization. That period exactly brackets the emergence of the Fighting Illini and Chief Illiniwek at the Illinois University.

    The Illini showed up in 1874 as the name of the school paper, which is a dignified and respectful way to use a name. It gradually became the name of the team, which subjects a name to indignities and disrespect, at the very least from the opposing fans. At that same time in history, Army officers and Smithsonian ‘scientists’ were collecting Indian heads from graves and massacre sites, and otherwise showing ‘respect’ for Indian people.

    Chief Illiniwek started dancing at half-time in 1926, when federal Indian agents were punishing Indians for dancing on reservations. The federal government specifically banned the Sun Dance ‘and all other similar dances and so-called religious ceremonies’ from 1880 to 1936. Interior secretaries and Indian commissioners ordered federal Indian agents to undertake a ‘careful propaganda’ to ‘educate public opinion against the dance.’

    Posted by Dan  on  03/31  at  06:05 PM
  23. What, y’all think “Cardinals” is an innocuous, unoffensive name?  Think about it: the name comes from a bird.  Now, why is that bird called a “cardinal?” Because it’s red, like Catholic cardinals in their scarlet garb.

    This is clearly offensive, since it implies that Catholicism is for the birds.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  06:09 PM
  24. Dartmouth got rid of the Indians part of their old team name many years ago.  They could never agree on another symbol.  They continue to be the Big Green.  It’s almost as indistinct as smoooooov jazzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  06:24 PM
  25. Damn, all the Final Four teams are ideologically compromised, then.  Perhaps we could tweak them a bit, so that we don’t have to reduce ourselves to rooting for colors, as Dr. Kwanda suggests?  How about the University of Louisville Cardinal Numbers, or the Michigan State University Spartan Furnishings?

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  06:28 PM
  26. I grew up in the Chicago metro area (Glen Ellyn & Naperville, if anyone cares), and we were brought up to refer to any part of IL south of Will county as “downstate”. 

    I’ve always been offended by the idea of the Chief, but I didn’t attend U of I (nor has anyone else in my family), so it hasn’t affected me personally. As an undergrad at IU (Indiana Univ), I had several years of cringing whenever anyone asked me my opinion of Bobby Knight (I’m not a fan), but that’s another issue. 

    Please don’t call me a Hoosier!

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  06:29 PM
  27. Dan’s historical review didn’t go far enough back in time.  The tribal groups of what is now Illinois were indeed some gnarly dudes.  Generations of mound building Siouian peoples practicing surprisingly sophisticated crop development and rotation and such.  Dominating various trade routes, many of the future Illini engaged in massive battles and as reported by some of the earliest french missionaries, they played the most violent games of their version of lacrosse(not unlike hockey).  Games that would last three to five days in which hundreds could die(many from injuries that caused horrible suffering for many). 

    As a Lakota i have always been offended by the use of these symbols.  But i also thought that if you are going to continue to use them, you should at least do so in the most accurate representations possible.  That would require such mascots as the chief to wear less austentatious coutoure, literally nearly naked would be more appropriate.  Maybe then his “dance” would evolve towards something less cheerleader.  Same thing for Florida State.  And well, Redskins were essentially piled up dead bodies for which vigilantes were accorded bounties.  That would look good in the Landover stadium.

    Why do Catholic Cardinals look like amanita muscaria??

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  06:35 PM
  28. I’m a U of I alum and I took your American Lit class and loved it (around ‘90 or so, doubt you remember—my name is Jack Stoller, but the handle I use is my nom de blog).  I was working for Senator Paul Simon at the time.  He had an adopted son who is of American Indian dsecent, and was pretty sensitive to these issues.  He signed a petition or something at a pow-wow in Chicago that I remember as being relatively innocuous—something to the effect that Indian mascots are offensive—and was then subject to a firestorm of controversy at U of I.  I worked at a College Democrats booth hawking an upcoming Simon event around that time, and I recognize your characterizations of Chief supporters who verbally abused me at the booth.  (I also was on Student Government at the time—I know, I know—and we actually overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the end of Chief Illiniwek, which maybe shows how unrepresentative those student governments are).

    Incidentally, I live in New York City now, and I was skeptical about the smoking ban at first.  I’m a convert now.  It’s not Gap-ification.  It’s heavenly.  I can go out at night and not come home smelling like a tobacco field or have my eyes reel from secondhand smoke-induced pain.  It’s hard to go back.

    Posted by honestpartisan  on  03/31  at  06:57 PM
  29. If I can take our host’s mention of the UND hockey program as an excuse to talk NCAA hockey, even in the midst of March b-ball madness the Frozen Four approaches, bringing with it a historical first: all four teams hail from the same conference, the WCHA.

    Headed to Columbus next week will be a pair of animal-themed teams (Colorado College Tigers, Minnesota Golden Gophers), the aforementioned aboriginal-themed Fighting Sioux and the Denver Pioneers, who until ‘98 were represented by a scruffy, white, Disney-designed frontiersman, Denver Boone. Then, in the throes of a school-wide identity overhaul, they traded Boone in for the Redtailed Hawk (which apparently resembles a turkey) and an incredibly lame mascot named Ruckus.

    Posted by Dan  on  03/31  at  07:03 PM
  30. Can we just keep the conversation on those little Golden Rodents? Over in my corner, the reality-based world is on five-day suspension, during which time one does not speak the Name of the Team.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  07:25 PM
  31. I think Stanford was one of the first “PC run amok!” schools to ditch the Indian name/mascot, choosing to go to the Color Based Name.  A friend (a Stanford grad) claims that at the time of the mooted name change, there was a petition to name the teams The Robber Barons, as that’s what Leland Stanford was.  It didn’t fly of, course.  The best mascot in all of sports, the Stanford Tree, was also a result of the name change, as sort of a protest against that early instance of PC run amok.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  08:35 PM
  32. IU has already been brought up, but I always thought that the “Hoosier” made for an excellent mascot.  Since no one knows what the hell it means, no one can be offended.

    Tim:  what IS the origin of the Columbia Lion?  Even after wearing the damn (light blue) football uniform for a year, I never found out why Columbia used a lion as a mascot.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  08:42 PM
  33. Ah, Dr. Bérubé, how about a 6 CD-R, 120-song homemade compilation of Brazilian music against signed copies of The Aesthetics of Cultural Studies and Life as We Know it (I’ve read and love the latter but don’t own it) that the Heels will slaughter the Illini by a double-digit lead on Monday night? I have my doubts that our beloved Illini will make it that far, but if they do, the bet is on, should you have copies to spare!

    I think I’ve told you this: I must be one of the only Duke alumni in the world who is a fanatic Heel fan (I went to UNC first). I taught at Duke as a TA for 4 years, and I can’t describe how much fun it was to walk into class with my UNC hat on every time we beat them (which in the mid-90s was 2 out of 3). I can only imagine Franklin Street this weekend. It’s special for me, ‘cause Chapel Hill was my first home in the US (1990-96) and to this day the town reminds of everything that’s decent, friendly, welcoming about this country. Go Heels.

    PS: We need a Micheal Bérubé-type Cultural Studies-of-Sports academic to write a book about Dean Smith. I know there are biographies out there, but he deserves more.

    Posted by Idelber  on  03/31  at  08:59 PM
  34. The origin of the Columbia Lions nickname is (or so legend has it) simply because the school’s original name is King’s College and the lion is the king of the beasts.

    I went to grad school at USC, and the legend is that the Trojans name originated because Cecil B. DeMille borrowed the USC Wesleyans marching band for a scene set in ancient Troy, and he let the band keep the costumes.

    Posted by Tim Horrigan  on  03/31  at  09:11 PM
  35. Double digits?  What are they putting in those caipirinhas, Idelber?  OK, I’ve got one bet with corndog and one with you.  And just for the record, Illinois 74, North Carolina 72.

    Posted by Michael  on  03/31  at  09:13 PM
  36. You’re on, Michael. Let me pick a score as well: Carolina 83, Illinois 72.

    Posted by Idelber  on  03/31  at  09:36 PM
  37. Hi Michael,

    Tried a trackback but it didn’t seem to work, anyway this started as a comment, grew to a post when it got too big, so it might fit in ok back here.

    Your commentary here is great. The doco In Whose Honor played on Maori television in New Zealand a couple of months back and I know of a number of people who were amazed that this kind of behaviour was still officially sanctioned, justified as a “tribute” even though it was opposed by the actual people being paid tribute to. There hasn’t been much of that in Aotearoa since the end of the Auckland University engineering department’s “spoof haka” in 1979 (haka = traditional performance, often associated with war). A bunch of local Maori activists showed up and beat the shit out of them.

    Such a strategy is perhaps more difficult in the Illiniwek situation :7. But what strikes me here is the depth of white attachment to something empirically unjust and upsetting for others. That’s what makes it scary, and situates the story in a much longer history of white cultural brutality, as the “save the chief” campaign brings back to life the emotional force that accompanied specific acts of violence in colonial history.

    I think your institutional efforts to historicise the situation and to compare it to minstrelsy as something that should no longer be acceptable are on the money. But I also wonder whether, as James Allen implies in Without Sanctuary, a pedagogical question is how to bring white people to understand the connection of our own emotional life and anxieties over cultural legitimacy to the violent history of settler culture. As Chakrabarty puts it, addressing the “historical wound” rather than just the historical facts; to face up to the actual grief both past and present.

    FWIW on the hoop front, I’d love to see Marvin Williams let loose for UNC this weekend.

    Posted by Danny  on  03/31  at  10:30 PM
  38. As an alumnus of one of the schools with the innocuous nicknames, I have to say: 1. My Spartans are once again going to surprise all those who worship blue-clad basketball teams from North Carolina and Kentucky. 2. Would you believe that “Spartans” is the LEAST innocuous nickname of the three nicknames the sports teams have had in their history. First, when the school was Michigan Agricultural College, they were the Aggies. Clever, eh? But wait, it gets even better—when they dropped “Agricultural” from the school name (to attract a more urbane clientele, I suppose) and became Michigan State College (University came later), the nickname was changed—after a contest to select a new name—to “The Michigan Staters”!! Brilliant, wasn’t it? But, alas, legend has it that a local sportswriter, probably thinking the name was pretty stupid, refused to use the term, and called them the Spartans. Obviously, people wised up, and it stuck. So in comparison, it’s a rather exciting nickname, doncha think?

    MSU 79 NC 75
    Illinois 82 Louisville 68

    Alas, my Spartans cannot beat the Illini (but hell, I didn’t think they’d get past Syracuse in the second round—thanks Vermont.) Illinois 76 MSU 69

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  10:48 PM
  39. Some Universities are more easily persuaded than others. I had an easy time convincing the University of Virginia to use the protocols they used for all other Visting Heads of State (e.g., the Emperor of Japan) whenever an Indian Chief visited, and they
    were very amenable to this.  (I was the Native American Student Union prez for a few years there.) Actually a lot of Chiefs’ daughters and sons graduated from there.

    But now I am at RIT and at least the RIT Tiger is pretty cool (AND we have a famous hockey team: come up and catch a game sometime!)

    Posted by David Ross McIrvine  on  03/31  at  11:00 PM
  40. I also cringed when I saw the Chief for the first time.  I gained a new insight into Chief fans when we took our 2 and a half year old daughter to a women’s basketball game.  She was completely mesmerized by the Chief during his dance and kept asking where he was after he left the floor.  It reminded me of a reaction a child would have to the teletubbies.  I suppose that if you were raised on the Chief, it would be very difficult to give him up.

    On the other hand, the argument that the Chief is not a mascot but “an honored symbol” was undermined by my daughter’s reaction when I was feeling a little slap happy and doing a goofy dance while grocery shopping at Meijer.  My daughter said, “Mommy, are you the Chief?” I wasn’t trying to imitate the Chief.  So if my daughter’s first thought at seeing her Mom do a goofy dance is “the Chief,” then is the Chief dignified?  Eh, not so much.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  11:35 PM
  41. I have not kept close track of the Save the Chief thing because it’s depressing, but in the past it was always being driven by alumni. Current students were far more willing to give him up than were the “Glory Days” contingent.

    One thing that really bothers U of I alumni--especially, I think, those who support the Chief for their own nostalgic purposes, but know, deep down, that it’s wrong--is to hear the Chief refered to as a “mascot.” The Chief, they say, is not one of these giant-headed cartoons that walks around the baseline, dancing with the pep band and playing grab-ass with the cheerleader; he only comes out at halftime for his dance and has no interaction with anyone else. This fine distinction is the rock upon which their support is based.

    Unfortunately, as Michael’s post says, the “majestic” dance is a pretty sorry tradition, handed down from frat boy to frat boy. During my years in Urbana--late 70s, early 80s--the Daily Illini would run a standard story when there was a new Chief, telling us of the research he did to prepare for this solemn undertaking. Although there was always some mention of looking into true Native American customs, the bulk of the preparation seemed to involve interviewing previous Chiefs. Asking wide-eyed questions of your middle-aged fraternity brothers and listening respectively was an important part of the tradition. (As was, I suspect, later getting hired by the law firms and banks of these MAFBs.)

    An odd side note: A few years later, when teaching at Northwestern (which does have a cartoony mascot that dances to the pep band and plays grab-ass with the cheerleaders), I went to a few Illinois-NU games played in Evanston. I always sat in a section with Illini fans and always heard at least one (my age or older) idiot making that woowoowoowoo noise you get by yelling and patting your opened lips with your hand. Had never heard that in all the games I went to in Champaign, surrounded by students. Another example of brain decay upon graduation.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  11:48 PM
  42. Michael,

    So sorry I missed you at the U of I. I’d had enough by the end of my sophomore year and left in ‘85. But then, you were probably still finishing up grad school at that time. I do wish I’d appreciated that library studies program, but the 18-year-old mind is still soft. (Hence your diabolical power, etc., etc.) Instead I was just a disaffected English major skulking, studying Romantic poetry, in what I thought must have been the most benighted Republican era I would ever know. We all know how that worked out!

    I guess I miss ol’ Shampoo Banana more than I knew. And though I never saw Chief Illiniwek, I was well familiar with the town-gown dynamic. I couldn’t stand the orange-blue team scheme, as I had an aversion to orange in those flourescent times, so I had to move on. I eventually made it to “Hail to purple, hail to white,” luckily for me. But I remember U of I (and Prof Adelman reciting “Leda and the Swan") with considerable nostalgia after 2 decades.

    Well, since I didn’t complete that advanced degree, I suppose reading your blog is somewhat of a vicarious pleasure for me of the road not taken. Please continue to hang tough against the “academic freedom” bullies and fanatics with your fine, slashing wit. And I really enjoyed that “Dieter” shot of you in front of the orange, orange “Gates.” Well, let’s face it, orange isn’t what it used to be!

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  11:58 PM
  43. Thanks, Tim!  What a sad story, really.  You’d think they could have come up with something more entertaining.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  12:20 AM
  44. correction: OK, the “so I had to move on” wasn’t actually causally related to the school colors (well, they didn’t help). Go Fighting Illini! Not that I’m watching. Hey, I have blogs to read!

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  12:32 AM
  45. As an anti-Cheif alumnus, I don’t need a kid in a headdress hopping around at center court to make me nostalgic for Murphy’s or the quad in springtime, not to mention those interesting - no, fascinating! - Modern American Literature classes. And lately, the Chief issue seems to be a loyalty litmus test, not unlike flag decals and ribbon bumperstickers. Somehow you’re less proud of your connection to Illinois if you don’t support the Chief. This may have been the case all along, but the rhetoric seems to have become nastier lately.
    Illinois will beat Louisville by double digits. Watch for Augustine to make up for his no-show against Arizona.

    Illinois will beat UNC in the title game - if State doesn’t do it first - because in the Big Ten we do this thing called “playing defense,” the point of which is to prohibit your opponent from scoring.

    Posted by Paul  on  04/01  at  01:03 AM
  46. My money’s on the Lower East Side Sweatshoppin’ Wops to go all the way. They got spirit.

    Posted by Alex  on  04/01  at  05:32 AM
  47. This just in:

    Congress convened overnight to enact legislation aimed at keeping the University of Illinois Chief Illiniwek tradition alive.  President Bush has ordered a Marine helicopter to stand by in Champaign to fly the Chief to St. Louis pending and appeal by the U of I Alumni/ae Association to the federal courts over custody of the Chief.  The Bureau of Indian affairs has filed an amicus brief.

    Senator Bill Frist watched an ESPN highlights tape on which a glimpse of Chief Illiniwek could be seen and commented that the Chief’s performance appeared ‘authentic,’ ‘reverent’ and ‘dignified’ and not at all ‘cheesy.’ Frist laughingly replied ‘no comment’ when asked if he could say the same of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  08:07 AM
  48. Alex, I thought the Wops changed their name to the “Lower East Side Fruitsellin’ Wops,” on the grounds that “Sweatshoppin’” was offensive to their Nike sponsors?  Or did I just imagine that?

    Posted by Michael  on  04/01  at  08:55 AM
  49. While a grad student at U of I, I frequently golfed at a course in Mahomet, a small town outside of C-U.  One day, a man (a course regular and Mahomet native) I was golfing with saw an interracial couple on the course, at which point smoke almost literally began coming out of his ears.  As I tried to reason with him, explaining that there is nothing wrong with interracial relationships, he responded by asking me:  “Have you ever seen a squirrel fucking a rabbit?”

    Silly me, I resorted to reason, reminding him that squirrels and rabbits are different species.  “That’s just the way I see it,” he said.  That’s just the way I see it?  Jesus Christ!  And does he also think that he’s carrying around a ballsack full of homonculi so he can propagate the (white) human race, despite scientists’ continued insistence to the contrary? 

    My point: this man was rabidly pro-chief.  How’s that for truculence, Michael?  This is what we’re dealing with.  BTW, “Mahomet” is an alternate spelling for “Mohammed.” I wonder whether he knows that.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  09:57 AM
  50. Idelber, please come watch the game at our house tomorrow night. Obrigado in advance.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  10:55 AM
  51. Geez, so negative!
    Turn your energies to creating new names.
    The Fighting Taliban
    The Post-Hegelians
    The Beaker Folk
    The Barking Moonbats
    Ward Churchill High School Jenesaisquoits
    The Midland Republican Ghouls
    The Creationists
    The Social Engineers
    The (Big Green) Manifest Destiny
    The Unresolved Issues
    The Conscientious Objectors
    The Culture Warriors
    The Endangered Species
    The Homeopaths
    Add your own.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  11:43 AM
  52. Dear Sian, thanks so much for the invite, but I’m in New Orleans! That would be what, a 10 or 12-hour drive to Chapel Hill? It surely would be nice, but I can’t do it. I’ll be with y’all in spirit, though.

    Posted by Idelber  on  04/01  at  01:18 PM
  53. Grew up in Champaign, UI Class of ‘78, and I’d be delighted if they dumped the Chief. You’d think that if you want to honor people, you’d care about whether the people you want to honor actually feel, y’know, honored by what you’re doing.

    But then, there’s a town near Champaign called Pekin where, until the late ‘80s, the high school team was called the Chinks. People complained for years before those honest yeomen turned their backs on, oh, decades of tradition and changed it to the Dragons.

    Also? Illinois will beat UNC like a rented stepchild.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  02:46 PM
  54. Ah, it’s been nice reading through this post and comments and reminiscing about my years at U of I.  I still remember the intro to anthropology class I took as a freshman where we spent an entire discussion section debating the Chief.  The main things I remember were my surprise at the strong emotions in the room and my dissatisfaction with the arguments made by the various students (admittedly, the latter may have had to do with my then status of being a conservative in the process of turning liberal).

    I managed to leave U of I relatively untouched by the whole controversy, though I’m sure had I seen the half-time show by the time I left (I attended a couple of basketball games while there, but somehow missed the half-time show), I would have been subject to the liberal cringe factor.

    Also, I have a dilemma that I need solved.  As a U of I alum who is now attending grad school at UNC, who am I supposed to root for should the two teams meet in the finals?  Are there rules about where my loyalties should lie?

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  03:23 PM
  55. "Also, I have a dilemma that I need solved.  As a U of I alum who is now attending grad school at UNC, who am I supposed to root for should the two teams meet in the finals?  Are there rules about where my loyalties should lie?”

    You must always go for your undergrad alma mater. That’s just the way it is.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  04:07 PM
  56. In the number of years I was at UIUC as a graduate student, I didn’t get much exposure to “The Chief”, mostly because I didn’t have the time or money to buy tickets for candy-assed football games. I spent formative teenage and undergrad years in Texas; therefore, my patience for Big 10 football was/remains low.* I didn’t even consider basketball as a sport, since (cf. “formative years in Texas") all right-thinking folk know that God Herself would suit up as a running back if only the Lycra would stretch around her child-bearing hips, dammit.

    But see the Chief I did. Twice, with other folks from my department. I did not feel like I was tearing myself away from anything compelling by turning my back to the spectacle, although there were usually a few comments when we did so. Most other fans, though, were pretty live-and-let-live with the small symbolic protest. It was over in a few minutes, and the game (frequently a snoozer**) resumed.

    I mean, if UIUC wants to continue to have a compelling stereotype as a symbol of the “spirit” of the institution, or a tribute to the campus, perhaps they should consider an updated, slightly more accurate mascot: Get one of the young male students to put on some proper Abercrombie, have him enter the field behind the wheel of his high-school graduation present, do a few donuts on the field, and then jump out and push over a public trash can. If he can do all these things while yelling out “WHOOOOOO!”, so much the better.***

    That would be a far more meaningful mascot. Or at least, a lot closer to some members of the student body.

    * I did undergrad at UT-Austin, which means I’m used to seeing really good football when the game doesn’t matter, and having my heart broken frequently during Choking Season, which starts with Oklahoma and doesn’t end until the bowl game.

    ** And by “snoozer” I mean “no bench-clearing brawls”.

    *** OK, I too have gotten drunk in Champaign and yelled out “WHOOOO!”, but in my defense, I was 6 hours into someone else’s post-prelim celebration, and no trash bins were overturned.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  07:29 PM
  57. I found much of the commentary against the “chief” interesting.  I chuckled at some of the comments.  But you know, it is hard being a recognizable Native American person living in Urbana, IL, home of the University of Illinois.  I just recently retired from 28 years in social services.  I am unmistakenly a Native person.  I have taken part in many anti-chief functions over the past ten years I have been here, but resent that it can take up so much time and thought.  I considered joining the lawsuit recently filed because I am confronted by the warped mindset that favors his perpetuation several times a day.  I have stopped going to certain restaurants because they “support the chief”.  And I really liked their food.  I certainly cannot attend any football or basketball games.  And the chief and his supporters have emotionally hurt my children, who are now grown.  I am here because my job was here.  I like the people my wife and I know.  I am part of a community that promoted and now has a Native American House on campus and a fledgling Native American Studies program.  My wife, a new PhD, is seeking a professorship which may require us to move.  I will not miss the pro-chief types.  But I will miss the home I made here and the wonderful people I have come to know and respect.  When you voice your opinions, both serious and humorous about the chief, just remember there are real Native People who are alive and well, albeit somewhat battered, who have to put up with at any given time those who are blind to what they really support.  And yes, their support surpasses all understanding.  Mvto.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  10:03 PM
  58. Here is an interesting story of Chief-related bullying.

    Posted by  on  04/02  at  02:19 PM
  59. The native Indian mascot issue really hits home to me, a fan of both Illini basketball and FSU Seminole football, and currently teaching at Stanford, which at least had the decency to dump the “Indian”, albeit in favor of the bland and confusing “Cardinal” (neither the prelate nor the bird, but merely the color!). In any event, for this Final Four, I will set aside my scruples, and cheer on Chief Illiniwek’s boys as we show those damned Tar Heels what’s what. Perhaps if UofI wins, they’ll have the backbone to pick a new mascot. I’d humbly suggest Soybeanman.

    Posted by The Continental Op  on  04/02  at  06:14 PM
  60. But see the Chief I did. Twice, with other folks from my department.cost to build a house djh How Much Does It Cost To Rewire A House
    I did not feel like I was tearing myself away from anything compelling by turning my back to the spectacle, although there were usually a few comments when we did so. Most other fans, though, were pretty live-and-let-live with the small symbolic protest. It was over in a few minutes, and the game (frequently a snoozer**) resumed.

    Posted by  on  02/07  at  10:36 PM
  61. It’s an amazing story, thank you for it. Found myself reading instead of working smile It’s worth it.

    Posted by Dan  on  04/26  at  08:02 AM





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