Community Protests “Chief Illiniwek”

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THE AIR WAS COLD AND THE SKY GREY as students huddled
together around the Alma Mater in anticipation of the
march to Assembly Hall for the Not Our Mascot Rally on
Friday. According to the iResist Web Site, Chief Illiniwek
was retired as of March 13, 2007. However, the Registered
Student Organization (RSO) and Students for Chief Illiniwek
have since been hosting events to further the mascot’s
According to a press release from the iResist Coalition,
the march would begin at the Alma Mater then weave
across campus to arrive at the Assembly Hall to protest the
“Next Dance.” The release stated that the coalition was
comprised of a multitude of groups, such as: Movimiento
Estudantil Chicana/o de Aztlan (MEChA), Red Roots, Latino/
a Studies, Campus Antiwar Network, and Students
Transforming Oppression and Privilege (STOP).
”It’s a stereotypical image of a Native person,” Thomas
Garza, human resources staff and member of the iResist
Coalition, said. “And what does that have to do with
Garza said the organization, MEChA, protested last
year’s rally, but due to the stressful and dangerous nature
of the protest, the organization turned to the coalition for
some local help.
”If you want to honor people, you honor them by listening
to them,” Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, junior in LAS and
member of MEChA said. “And Natives on this campus, the
Natives which the Chief supposedly represents, have all
said this is offensive to them.”
Rosa said he helped organize the rally. He added that
the organization works as an advocate for social justice on
behalf of the Latino students at the University. Rosa said
the coalition wants to end this dark chapter of University
history and that, “they want to move on.”
”If the students want to make a costume and go dance
at the local VA (Veteran’s Association) hall, that’s free
speech,” Rosa said. “But to use University of Illinois Music,
to use University of Illinois logos, and to use University
space, they don’t have rights to that.”
The Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma is a descendant
of the Illiniwek Tribe, also known as the Illini or Illinois
Nations passed a resolution stating that the image
portrayed by Chief Illiniwek does not accurately represent
or honor the heritage of the Peoria Tribe and is a degrading
racial stereotype that reflects negatively upon all American
Indian people.
Steven Wyatt, senior in LAS, said he chose to attend the
rally because he had been dealing with this issue since he
was a freshman at the University.
”It’s terrible that something like this is still allowed to
go on in our society,” Wyatt said, “People have images and
ideas of Native stereotypes and don’t even realize they are
Wyatt said he would ask students how they would feel
if there was a mascot who made fun of their religion and
cultural heritage. He felt Natives have been abused in society.
Wyatt added, “Their sovereignty is denied to them,
[and] they’re the oppressed peoples here.”
Graduate Student, Emily Henkels, said when she
entered the University, she was in support of the Chief, but
the retirement of the Mascot and rising racial tension that
followed made her look at racism in an entirely new way.
She added that members of the Peoria as well as other
descendents have repeatedly stated the Chief was offensive.
“We want peace, we don’t want this symbol dividing
our campus any longer,” Henkels said.
Mario Munoz, freshman in DGS and member of Students
for Chief Illiniwek, said the organization respected
the IResist coalition’s view on the mascot. He said the University
of Illinois uses the Chief as a symbol, and not a
mascot. He added that the two words are often thrown
around interchangeably and people need to understand
the difference. Munoz also said the organization was
about honoring the tradition, “that is Chief Illiniwek.”
“Once they understand that we respect and honor the
Chief, as opposed to mocking him and making him a minstrel
show, I think they’ll probably get a better idea,”
Munoz said. “We’re not racists, that is not what we are
Megan Laley, sophomore in Kinesiology, said she was
attending the “Next Dance” event on Friday evening. She
added that she thought he was a symbol that people “generally”
respected and she felt the event was honoring the
”People from the Illiniwek tribes are in general not
offended by this, it’s white people who are,” Laley said.
Fawaad Ahmad, sophomore in ECE said he is in support
of the Chief. He added that he thought they were not
degrading anyone with the use of it. He said he felt having
the state as well as the University named after the Illini was
an honor.
“I mean it’s all for fun, there’s the Florida State Seminoles,
the Washington Redskins, if they want money, I’m
sure Illinois can provide money to them,” Ahmad said, “It’s
not like we’re trying intentionally to harm anyone.”

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