Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Home on the Range

These next two posts will relate to American Indians (or Native Americans if you like) and our relation to them. This first post will discuss an ongoing debate at my alma mater, the University of Illinois. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has recently ruled that any university that uses Indian mascots, nicknames, or logos are not allowed to participate in or host post-season play (playoffs). For more info see this article. This is a very hot topic at my old school, with passionate people on both sides of the debate. It was actually like that when I was there a decade ago, but this ruling has brought it to the forefront. I have friends and family who are alumi who feel strongly the tradition should be kept. So here's my take on it.

I remember my freshman year during orientation when I was first introduced to Chief Illiniwek in Assembly Hall. They introduced a very well dressed clean cut young white man in a very nice suit. From my recollection it was stated that he was from a prestigious fraternity and the affluent north suburbs. There was talk of how it was a prestigious position and how it was an authentic Indian dance. I walked away with an impression that has never left me. Why was this position given as a reward for status? Coming into college I already had a negative impression of the Greek system due partly to an episode of 21 Jump Street involving a hazing death.



During my six years in Champaign, I grew to enjoy the tradition and the ceremony. I still get goosebumps when he comes out at halftime. It is very well done theatrically. It has more of a respectful aire than many other Indian mascots such as a tomahawk chop or caricature cartoon logo.

But between these two situations, I rest firmly on the fence. I am not passionate for either side of the issue because I sympathize with each side. Not to mention the people who's opinion I respect on each side. It is a part of my university's tradition, but it is still a white rich kid dressed up as an Indian doing a faux Indian dance. If I heard correctly, the university has somehow worked it out that someone with Indian heritage is now in the role, but still, my cynical side thinks about what means were used to get him there. Maybe all team mascots should be animals, inanimate objects, or hilltops.

3 comments:

JonasParker said...

I think about these things and wonder: What if there was a team called the Arizona State Zulus? And there was a logo with a faux "Zulu" on it? And some kid, black, white or green or whatever colour, dressed up as a Zulu and did some dance for the crowd to rile them up for the big game? I'd feel rather shitty that some ignorant people decided to once again co-opt an important part of my culture for their entertainment value, while putting me in a system that keeps my ignorant of what it is truly all about.

Frank said...

Jonas,
Yes, that is precisely the point why part of me is against it. On the flip side, it is respectfully done. My feelings may be tied a bit to the emotional ties to the school. I am trying to distance myself from those ties enough to have a clear view, but it's harder than you would think. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint.

Cathy said...

A few articles came out in the Chicago press when the first inklings of the NCAA brouhaha mentioning the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame. Is the leprechaun mascot disrespectful to the Irish? Something else to think about at any rate. Frank knows my position. I am his cousin, also a U of I alum, and I am in favor of Chief Illiniwek. I do see the other point of view and empathize. I am not certain how the U of I will settle all this in the end. I don't think either side will be truly happy with any outcome. I just wonder if it's entirely a matter of race or will it come down to economics? Is the Board of Trustees hesitant to retire the chief for fear the alumni who invest heavily in the university will withdraw their financial support? Money talks, after all.

Again, just a few thoughts.