Sioux to Illini: Return regalia
Published January 18, 2007
By Jodi S. Cohen and Michelle S. Keller
Tribune staff reporters
In a 1982 halftime ceremony at Memorial Stadium, a 93-year-old Oglala Sioux chief and medicine man presented the University of Illinois with tribal regalia for use by the university's mascot, Chief Illiniwek. The university paid $3,500 for the moccasins, blanket, peace pipe pouch, breastplate and war bonnet with 90 eagle feathers, all owned by Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow, according to the university's archives. On Thursday, Oglala Sioux tribal members, including Fools Crow's grandson, asked for it all back.
The tribe's demands are the latest in a growing campaign by students, faculty, Native American groups and the National Collegiate Athletic Association—which has already penalized the U. of I.—to dump the mascot. A resolution passed Thursday by the Oglala Sioux asks the university to stop using the mascot and return the attire, including the original feathers.Eagle feathers were replaced on the mascot's headdress with painted turkey feathers by 1990, according to the school's sports media guide. Where the original eagle feathers now are is unclear, both with the university and with tribal headquarters on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
University officials, already mulling the future of Chief Illiniwek, first learned of the demand at a trustees meeting Thursday. "The university is going to review the resolution that was presented and take it under advisement," said U. of I. spokesman Tom Hardy. The resolution, passed by three of the tribe's five-member executive committee, points out that Chief Illiniwek, intended to honor Illinois-based tribes, does not belong in Oglala clothing in the first place, because that tribe is not from Illinois. "The antics of persons playing 'Chief Illiniwek' perpetuate a degrading racial stereotype that reflects negatively on all American Indian people," according to the resolution.
Debate over the mascot, a barefoot student who performs at football and basketball games in the buckskin costume and feather headdress, has raged for years. This episode comes as a U. of I. student faces possible expulsion over a comment on a pro-Chief Web site threatening to hurt a student who opposed the mascot. Some university students and Native Americans have asked university trustees to end the Chief tradition, saying it is humiliating and creates a hostile environment on campus. Supporters say the Chief respects Native American culture and is a revered tradition that dates to 1926.
Lawrence Eppley, chairman of the U. of I. board of trustees, said Thursday that the board should decide this year about the future of the Chief, citing a ruling by the NCAA that prohibits the university from hosting postseason competition as long as the Illiniwek tradition continues. Last year the school lost an appeal, and men's tennis and women's soccer teams were unable to host postseason play. "It is also time to ... bring to a conclusion the matter of Chief Illiniwek, so that the university can be removed from the list of NCAA policy violators, move our institution forward and allow our student athletes to compete at the highest levels and free of sanctions," Eppley said at Thursday's board meeting.
Critics hopes' grow
Faculty and staff members in American Indian studies at the Native American House at the U. of I. said they hoped the resolution would finally push university administrators to end use of the mascot. "This is a moment for them to actually get out from under the whole controversy," said Debbie Reese, assistant professor of American Indian studies. "It is an important moment for native people across the country who are asking that mascots like this be retired."
Reese said she disagreed with the argument that the Chief respects Native American tradition by using authentic regalia. "Here they have a situation where they have a native tribe asking for that back. If they honor and respect native people, they will give it back," Reese said.
Fools Crow's grandson, Mel Lone Hill, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he was upset when his grandfather handed over the clothing because he thought it would be passed down to him. "It's more of a family heirloom. It is a special costume that he wore. It was given to me by him, and then he borrowed and took it with him," said Lone Hill, the tribe's ceremonial chief. He said the regalia probably was made a year or two before it was turned over.
Fools Crow, who traveled with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, died in 1989.
A former Illiniwek surprised
One former Chief Illiniwek, Steve Raquel, said Thursday that he was surprised by the demand because he thought the university and the tribe had a good relationship. "To hear this request come back just kind of saddened me and saddens a lot of the chiefs," said Raquel, of Naperville, a member of the Council of Chiefs, a group of 27 alumni who portrayed Illiniwek. Raquel was Chief from 1992 to 1993. "We did purchase it," said Raquel, referring to the university. "The ceremony that we had was a presentation of gratitude. It was an exchange. The uniform is a very significant part of the tradition."
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said there is a second costume, used from 1967 to 1982, before the purchase from Fools Crow. She said there are now two Chiefs; one performs at men's basketball and football games wearing the Oglala Sioux regalia and the other performs at women's games in the older costume. An even older outfit was displayed until last year in the university's Sousa Archives: Center for American Music, Kaler said.
Deward Walker, an anthropology and ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado, said the Oglala Sioux clothing could be considered sacred, depending on how it was used by the tribe. "It depends on who wore it, it depends on the significance to the people from whom it came. ... It is up to the tribe to decide if it is to be regarded as culturally significant," said Walker, an expert in Native American artifacts. "Sometimes they are made with the intended purpose of gifting them to someone outside the tribe. At other times, headdresses worn by famous tribal leaders have been given over, much to the embarrassment and chagrin of the tribes."
Chief Illiniwek photo: http://www.chiefilliniwek.org/