FROM THE ARCHIVE

Retain or retire but no apology for 'Chief'

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THURSDAY, MARCH 14, 2002

University of Illinois trustees seeking guidance on the school's controversial Chief Illiniwek mascot found little on Wednesday with a report which offered no concrete resolution to the long-running debate.

After more than a year of discussion moderated by a former judge, trustee Roger Plummer told his colleagues at a meeting in Urbana that there can be no real "compromise" to the issue. Presenting two alternatives, he said the school could either keep the mascot found offensive to many in the Native community or send him into early retirement.

But in laying the middle ground, Plummer made it clear there was nothing inherently wrong with a student dressing up in buckskin and parading about in faux Indian mannerisms. Whether the school decides to "retain" or "retire" the polarizing symbol, there will be no apologies, he wrote in a report delivered to the trustees.

"Retain the Chief, arrest and reverse the slow marginalization that has occurred over the last several years," Plummer wrote. In this case, the mascot should be made "less offensive," he said.

Otherwise lead him to a respectful death, he offered. "The retirement should be an honorable one that does not demean, devalue nor apologize for this 75-year-old tradition," he wrote.

The divergent views highlighted the intense battle that has surrounded Chief Illiniwek in recent years. Supporters and opponents have debated whether the mascot and his associated dress, songs and performance are offensive to Native Americans.

Plummer, the only African-American trustee, admitted he was caught in the middle as he has publicly supported keeping the mascot. He defended his lack of objectivity but said other board members would fail the same test.

"[T]he inference I drew was that because I am black I should know better," he said in describing the controversy.

Plummer also said tribes and Native Americans view the situation differently. He not only referenced a highly disputed Sports Illustrated poll but the accepted use of such mascots at the Seminoles of Florida.

He said: "The Native American community is not of one mind on all of these issues."

Trustees set no timetable on when they would vote on Chief Illiniwek. In the past, a majority have supported keeping the mascot, whose origins date to the the 1920s and was designed to mimic Sioux culture because the tribes of Illinois were deemed less palatable.

Since then, there have been attempts to make the Chief more "authentic." According to a report finalized in late 2000, the last three students who have portrayed the Illiniwek "studied" fancy dancing.

One -- Webber Borchers -- was allegedly made an "honorary" member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, according to the report. He and the others were basically commended for becoming interested in Native culture as Eagle Scouts.

Get the Report:
Seeking a Compromise - Chief Illiniwek (3/13)

Relevant Links:
Chief Illiniwek, University of Illinois - http://www.uiuc.edu/dialogue/index.html
Anti-Chief Site - http://www.prairienet.org/prc/prcanti.html
Save the Chief, Pro Mascot Site - http://www.savethechief.com

Related Stories:
Chief Illiniwek report released (3/13)
Editorial: Rethink mascot opposition (3/7)
Illiniwek foes win round in court (4/6)
Church gives money to Chief Illiniwek foes (2/8)