Monday, February 19, 2007

Finally, Farewell

The University of Illinois has finally agreed to comply with NCAA orders to get rid of mascot, Chief Illiniwek. The university can keep the nicknames Illini and Fighting Illini (similar to the decision regarding William and Mary).
I was fairly excited by the news, so when my tennis teammate, an Illinois alum, started to say "this weekend University of Illinois decided--" and I finished "get rid of their mascot!" The glee in my voice though did not match that of her own who said something about "80-year old tradition" and "not really offensive." I forget that even though I now live in a very liberal part of the country, "liberal" philosophy only goes so far. Especially when we are talking about "tradition" after all. So I trotted out, hopefully in a non-pedantic way, why Native American mascots are offensive, how what UI presented as their tradition was not really respectful of Native American tradition, how the "dance" and the mascot itself did not really foster any kind of understanding of the culture of Native Americans in Illinois, and finally how even if a school itself does not mean to be offensive (though the ignorance defense does not fly with me) rival schools use the mascot in offensive ways by portraying lynchings and rape (as seen in the above picture).

She said something about how it was like black face and she never thought of it that way so I think she got it.

Others, not so much.
NPR ran a segment on the decision and interviewed one of the former portrayers of Chief Illiniwek who is the spokesperson for the Council of Chiefs--a group of former chief portrayers. Unfortunately Michele Norris did not ask any kind of probing questions like "what made you qualified to portray the chief? are you familiar with Illini traditions? are you a Native American studies scholar?" [UI does have an American Indian Studies program and it issued its own brief statement supporting the decision but noting that it does not change the campus climate that allowed the mascot to exist for so long.]

And although Norris, and her interviewee, both noted that there are two sides to the issue, this interview really focused on the supporters who are disappointed the tradition is being taken away by the NCAA (who threatens sanctions against schools they find are using a mascot in a demeaning or offensive way).

Some articles (of which there are hundreds) are reporting there may be a vigil held for the mascot who performed for the last time at the basketball game this weekend.

How about holding a vigil for the all real Native Americans that have been murdered at the hands of white men? It would be a good lesson for the majority of college students who know nothing more about Native Americans than some old myths about savages and scalpings, and some new ones about money-hungry casino owners or alcoholic welfare system abusers.

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