Chief Illiniwek Needs To Stay Gone


I made this photo particularly large so that you could see cultural appropriation in all of its glory.  The University of Illinois ended the use of the chief  as a mascot due to cultural sensitivity issues two years ago.  Unfortunately some of the students have decided that this distasteful tradition needed to be revived.  The Students for Chief Illiniwek, funded the purchase of a new uniform and the chief is set to perform once again this Saturday at an Ohio vs Illinois football game.

According to the Chicago TribuneRoberto Martell, president of Students for Chief Illiniwek, said the group encountered no resistance from the administration. Tom Hardy, a university spokesman, said the students will be allowed to hold the event and that it is not sponsored by the university.
“Chief Illiniwek is a big priority,” said Martell, a 20-year-old junior. “It inspired me to be a complete man.”

The following is a video of the chief in action at his last official performance.

Cultural appropriation inspired someone to be a man..seriously, WTF. By this definition to be understood as a man, you have to mock another culture; thus those belonging to the culture being ridiculed are relegated to the status of eternal child.  Sounds a little calling a grown black man boy doesn’t it? Insisting that an adult person of colour is childlike, is show your bigotry to the world 101.

Professional sports has a history of “othering” indigenous peoples through the mockery of traditional dress and cultural traditions.  We have the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves (complete with the tomahawk chop), and the Chicago Blackhawks.  Somehow the spirit of sportsmanship gives licence to mock Indigenous cultures.

Many tribes have complained about how offensive  this kind of behaviour is only to be told that it is all in good fun, or just good sportsmanship.  It is exactly the same as telling a person of colour that they are too sensitive when they point out racism.

It is almost the end of 2008, the president is a man of colour and the state that he represented still engages in dress up like an Indian. Am I the only one that sees the cruel irony in this?  Yeah, the US is so evolved that it can elect a black man, but not evolved enough to realize that having a man play Native, and dance around a stadium to loud cheers is offensive.  WOW racism really did come to an end November 4th.

During the election there was much talk about the vote being a referendum on race and equality.  What was neglected is that a true conversation never occurred because many races were excluded from the debate.  How often did  you read about Indigenous issues in the newspaper, or hear about them in the mainstream media?  I actively looked for news daily, and I can tell you that information was scarce period. 

We cannot be bothered to make them part of our social conversation and yet at the first opportunity to mock and degrade some are all to happy to wear a headdress and play the fool.  The fact that traditional dress and dance has meaning in aboriginal communities is apparently meaningless because it is more important to honour the tradition of cultural appropriation.  Chief Illiniwek has an 80 year legacy…that would be 80 years of telling Indigenous people that their culture is so meaningless it is not problematic to use it to rally support for a sporting event.

Making sure that Indigenous people are invisible in a debate about race and inequality, and then presenting racist appropriation to support a national hobby only further serves to highlight the degree of racism that they must deal with.  History has been written from the lens of the victor and in the process all of the deep spiritual connections that have been attached to Native ceremonies have been co-opted.   It is only a colonizer that could view this kind of behaviour as acceptable. 

Contrary to what Martell said the best way to feel like a man is to honour all of those around you.  If you have to stand on someone to feel uplifted perhaps you have further to rise than you thought.

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One comment on “Chief Illiniwek Needs To Stay Gone
  1. Cade says:

    I lirltaley jumped out of my chair and danced after reading this!