As a dozen protesters rallied outside, thousands of supporters rallied inside at the Assembly Hall on Saturday afternoon to watch University of Illinois student Logan Ponce, dressed in a replica Chief Illiniwek costume, dance to the song played by a band of alumni, not the alumni band--an event billed as "The Next Dance."
"Look, Mom," she said. "He looks like an Indian."
The bottom two sections of the Assembly Hall soon began to fill with bright orange sweatshirts, and then the chants began.
"I-L-L," one group yelled.
"I-N-I," another yelled back.
Protesters, in the same vein, would yell a similar chant later as the crowds flowed out, replacing the cheer's letters with "R-A-C" and "I-S-T."
"Students for Chief Illiniwek presents the next dance ... 82 years ago this fall, the University of Illinois established a tradition at the university building, a tradition that made Chief Illiniwek the symbol of our great university," he said.
"It was not just a dance at the half-time ... it was a tangible reminder of an intangible spirit. The spirit upon which our great state and our great university were founded. It was the spirit of strength, honesty, loyalty, dignity and truthfulness--attributes that our Native American ancestors embodied, and attributes that everyone today can aspire to," he continued.
"While University of Illinois officials retired Chief Illiniwek in February 2007, it can never ..." He paused as the crowd booed. "... Ever, ever, ever, retire the values for which he stands ..." Another pause as, this time, cheers erupted. "... And that is what we are today to celebrate," he concluded.
The 4-year-old girl was arguably the wisest person at the event. She (mis)understood that the garishly attired and painted Chief Illiniwek was supposed to represent a real Indian. Although she was wrong about the clownish stereotype, at least she stated this "fact" plainly. She didn't hide behind the organizers' dishonest double-talk.
In reality, the main "value" Chief Illiniwek stands for is a Eurocentric attitude of superiority over Indians. In other words, a racist attitude toward them. The sooner the students realize this, the better.
For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots.