RetireTheChief logo image A forum for discussion on retiring Chief Illiniwek
Welcome to RetireTheChief August, 2003 Vol. 2, No. 3
3. Bad Publicity - National Views
Nationwide disdain for the Chief reflects poorly on the UofI

Regional and National Opinion

Wall Street Journal, Frederick Klein, 11/17/00:

Native Americans are pained by the Chief [Illiniwek] and his ilk, and wish they'd go away. The Chief's fate shouldn't be decided by a vote... Sports are supposed to be fun, and neither they nor the ceremonies that surround them should cause distress. The university should rise above the Chief's supporters and detractors and ease him into retirement.
Klein is a U.I. graduate (1959).

Chicago Tribune, editorial titled "Retire The Chief", 3/7/01:

By now board [of trustees] members should recognize that their athletic teams' controversial symbol has become too great a distraction... the University of Illinois is, after all, an academic institution. It is a fine one. Imagine how much better it might be if all that energy were focused on issues that actually enhanced the school's reputation.

National Education Association, Advocate Online (Gurleen Grewal), 1/2000

Symbols are extremely powerful and convey complex messages. The use of Native American symbols - such as Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois ... conveys a message that is far from amusing. These symbols are neither 'compliments' to the Native American people nor acknowledgements of their heritage.

Southern Poverty Law Center, Letter to UIUC, 4/14/00:

Chief Illiniwek is a racial caricature that represents "Indian" culture in a simplistic and stereotypical fashion... An image that denigrates members of the University community can hardly serve as a symbol of school spirit and unity. The Southern Poverty Law Center asks that you 'retire' Chief Illiniwek so that all of your students, alumni, and faculty can celebrate the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's successes in the classroom, on the basketball court, and on the football field with pride and honor.
The SPLC, founded in 1971, is a nationally-recognized organization dedicated to tolerance and diversity.

Chicago Sun-Times, Margaret McCloskey, 5/31/03:

The only thing that seemed to divide the students [on UIUC Homecoming Weekend] was our mascot. It makes very little sense - the mascot should be a symbol of school spirit and pride. I'm not very bothered by Illiniwek ... on the other hand, I wouldn't really miss him if he did disappear.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Article, 3/6/01:

There is a major furor surrounding 'Chief Illiniwek.' As well there should be. With the continued presence of Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois is merely making a spectacle of itself.

Chronicle of Higher Education, Letter, 4/27/01:

I recently applied for a faculty position at the university [of Illinois], but when I learned that it aggressively promotes the perpetuation of stereotypical representations of native people, I withdrew my application... [with the] denigrating, stereotypical portrayal of a native religious leader ... I could hardly expect that the university would protect my rights as a female faculty member. Indeed, I doubt that any underrepresented group would be treated respectfully...
- Sarah L. Pallas
Pallas is an Associate Professor at Georgia State University, Atlanta

Sports Illustrated, Franz Lidz, 9/17/90, article "Not a very sporting symbol: Indians have ceased to be appropriate team mascots"

[Chief Illiniwek] is the sort of ignoble savage that grunted and circled wagon trains in Saturday afternoon serials. Many Native Americans find the university's Indian chief about as palatable as the cigar-store variety... The Indian has nothing to do with football and everything to do with what's sacred to the Native American heritage.

UIC Today, Kip Bordelon, 1/21/03, article Why Chief Illiniwek must go:

It really is quite simple; the Chief Illiniwek mascot is extremely disrespectful, quite offensive, and plain racist to Native Americans and others. How dare any person insist on maintaining a symbol that has been deemed offensive to another person's race and culture... The failure of the University to fully appreciate the depth of anger and indignation felt by Native Americans showcases the University in the wors[t] possible light as insensitive and uncaring..

USA Today Magazine, 1/2001 -
The Dark Side of Sports Symbols, by D. Stanley Eitzen and Maxine Baca Zinn:

Colleges and universities, for the most part, are making major efforts to diversify ... by race, ethnicity, and sex. This laudable goal is clearly at odds with the existence of racist and sexist names and practices of their athletic teams... Another problem is the imitation or misuse of symbols that have religious significance to some Native American peoples. Utilizing dances, chants, drummings, and other rituals at sporting events clearly tends to trivialize their meaning... This allegiance to their school symbols seems to have higher priority than insensitivity to the negative consequences produced by inappropriate depictions of Native Americans.

Seattle Times, Editorial, 1/10/00:

But no logo is more questionable than the Indian, used for years by schools as a favored symbol of competitiveness: the crazed tomahawk-waving "Injun," the noble savage in a headdress. Taking that final step - finding a fierce new mascot altogether - is true sportsmanship.

Chicago Tribune, Editorial, 10/2/00:

Team nicknames and mascots are surprisingly controversial issues, but it's rarely hard to figure out the right answer... Most of us, if a gesture intended to flatter ended up giving offense, would not want to make it again. But some Illinoisans want to go on "honoring" Indians no matter how angry it makes them. If the U. of I. were to retire the chief, officials could spend more time worrying about the really important problems facing higher education. That day can't come too soon.

Black Issues in Higher Education - Article regarding NAACP resolution - 8/19/99:

[It] rejects the use of Native Americans and 'all historically oppressed people and their cultural traditions' as sports mascots and symbols. The resolution grew out of a longtime fight at the University of Illinois to ban Chief Illiniwek, the school's mascot...

Amnesty International, Letter from Chair of Board, to UIUC [excerpt here], 7/16/97:

Much of the interethnic conflict in the world results from the failure of some cultural groups to honor and respect the right of different, usually minority, groups to preserve and protect their distinctive cultural heritage and traditions....While the First Amendment gives UIUC the right to use these symbols [dancing, chanting, face-painting wearing eagle feathers] in a way that dishonors and debases them, it is shameful and wrong for UIUC to exercise this right in this way...

Chicago Tribune, Letter, 1/28/00:

It's now time for friends of the university ... to recognize that the proper way to honor the people for whom our state is named is to listen to the legitimate objections of Native Americans and others offended by the chief's antics. It's time to find a new name and mascot for the University of Illinois teams.
- U. Chicago professor Amy Dahlstrom

San Francisco Chronicle:

"Chief Illiniwek is a cartoon from another era"

Sports Illustrated, Review of "In Whose Honor" by Jeff Pealman, 7/14/97:

[Chief Illiniwek's] dance--sort of M.C. Hammer meets Richard Simmons meets Biff the town idiot--was supposed to recall an Indian ritual. It failed miserably...


Bad P.R. for the University:
Chief Illiniwek is a poor symbol for the University of Illinois

Editor, RetireTheChief

Just the facts - or in this case, opinions.

National publicity regarding the Chief and other Native American sports symbols is predominantly negative. Even prominent former supporters of the Chief have since recommended his retirement.

Where poor publicity is concerned, you might point your finger at RetireTheChief. Shoot the messenger if you will, but our point here is that national press on the Chief - and by association, on the University of Illinois - is highly and visibly unfavorable.

Read on for the opinions of regional and national organizations, newspapers and magazines on use of Native American symbols in general, and Chief Illiniwek in particular. Keep in mind that such press may constitute a (poor) first impression of the U. of I. for national leaders and media as well as prospective students and faculty.

Isn't it time to retire the Chief? •

Chicago Sun-Times - Paul Simon - 9/12/00:

..the alumni and University of Illinois board of trustees .. have not reached the point of sensitivity that their colleagues at Dartmouth and Stanford and other schools have achieved. It is an Illinois school tradition that they enjoyed as students and they nostalgically want to continue that, even though the American Indian community objects? ... sooner or later the University of Illinois will join other schools in abandoning this symbol, and the sooner the better.

CNN - Talkback Live statement by Vernon Bellecourt, 4/16/01:

While there's nothing wrong with the word "Warriors," "Braves," "Chiefs," or "Indians," those are not our words. Those words created by Hollywood movies and the cheap 10-cent Western novelists. But when you attach it to a sports team, then it conjures up and triggers all the ridiculous behavior, stereotypical behavior, which is really an offense and an insult to Indian people and non-Indian people ...

Linguistic Society of America - Resolution Opposing Chief Illiniwek, 1/12/2000:

The Linguistic Society of America urges the administration and trustees of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to replace "Chief Illiniwek" with a symbol that does not promote inaccurate, anachronistic, and damaging stereotypes of Native American people, or indeed members of any minority group...
The LSA further chose "to not return to the state of Illinois as long as 'Chief Illiniwek' remains an official symbol at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign."

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights - Statement on the Use of Native American Images and Nicknames as Sports Symbols - 4/13/01:

It is particularly disturbing that Native American references are still to be found in educational institutions, whether elementary, secondary or post-secondary... The use of stereotypical images of Native Americans by educational institutions has the potential to create a racially hostile educational environment that may be intimidating to Indian students... The use of the [Indian] imagery and traditions, no matter how popular, should end when they are offensive..

Indian Country Today, Survey, 8/7/01:

In a survey by Indian Country Today, 81 percent of respondents indicated use of American Indian names, symbols and mascots are predominantly offensive and deeply disparaging to Native Americans... seventy-five percent of respondents also believe use of American Indian names, symbols and mascots at non-Indian schools, colleges and universities should be in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

American Anthropological Association, Anti-Mascot Resolution, 11/99:

We, the members of the American Anthropological Association, call upon all educators and administrators of educational institutions to stop promoting the stereotypical representation of American Indian people through the use of sports mascots. The persistence of such officially sanctioned, stereotypical presentations humiliates American Indian people, trivializes the scholarship of anthropologists, undermines the learning environment for all students, and seriously compromises efforts to promote diversity on school and college campuses.
The Association further chose to "cease to schedule Annual Meetings in the state of Illinois until such time as the administration and trustees of the University ... replace their 'Chief Illiniwek' symbol."

NCAA - Report on use of American Indian Mascots, 10/2002:

In acknowledgment of today's diverse society, the global expansion of higher education, and the NCAA Constitution that supports the honor and dignity of all persons; the committee believes when American Indians are used as a mascot, harmful stereotypes may result... the MOIC believes that institutions using American Indian mascots, nicknames and logos should review the depiction of and behavior associated with the use... Further, those aspects that are offensive should be eliminated to ensure that the NCAA's principles of cultural diversity and gender equity, sportsmanship and ethical conduct and nondiscrimination are adhered to during all athletic events.
Further information on this report, from the 2003 NCAA Convention, may be found here.

Modern Language Association - Resolution on Mascots and Symbols, 6/2001:

...educational institutions' use of these mascots and symbols can undermine their mission to educate students about the histories, cultures, and achievements of people of color... Therefore, be it resolved that the MLA condemns the use of representations of native peoples and other racial and ethnic groups and their cultural traditions as sports mascots or symbols.

American Counseling Association - Resolution Opposing Use of Stereotypical Native American Images as Sports Symbols and Mascots, 12/2/01:

Therefore, Be It Resolved, That the American Counseling Association disseminate educational materials highlighting the negative consequences of the use of stereotypical Native American images; and ... encourage its members to work toward elimination of stereotypical Native American images in institutions where they are employed.

Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert on Chief Illiniwek, 3/15/01:

The Chief for me goes back to childhood ... But ... I must listen again at what Native Americans are saying, and they are saying they feel wounded and dismayed by this depiction of their culture. If that is how they feel, then I must respect them, just as white Southerners must rethink their childhood feelings about the Confederate flag. It is time to move on.

Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication - Resolution Opposing Native American Nicknames and Mascots, 8/01:

The Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication condemns the use of Native American nicknames and mascots by non-Native schools and professional teams and calls upon its members and associates to do whatever they can to end such use.

United Methodist Church News Service - Commentary by Rev. Alvin Deer, 3/9/01:

A child once asked me why Indians were "mean." Where did he get that idea? By schools such as the University of Illinois "honoring" my ancestors? ... The Chief Illiniwek mascot issue in Champaign, Ill., is not an isolated one. It is nationwide.

Copley News Service:

Is it really worth the fight for the right to hang one's head in reverence as a white college kid dances around a stadium?

Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/23/01, Article: "Controversy grows over Urbana-Champaign's Mascot"

The "push to get rid of the chief" [Illiniwek] is "the latest step in one of the country's most heated mascot controversies."



Let's do the right thing ... Retire the Chief

WELCOME This site exists to give a voice to those who believe Chief Illiniwek should be retired, to promote discussion between those who are pro- and anti-Chief, and to encourage a change in policy - to retire the Chief. We want to turn up the volume on the Chief debate. Regardless of your stand on this divisive issue, welcome .