July 25, 2006

The problem with Chief Illiniwek

Mascot represents stereotype After 1818, when Illinois became a state and sent representatives to the U.S. Congress, members of Congress authorized a massive land grab and the forced removal of Indian nations from the state. This is the sort of memory "Chief" Illiniwek honors. Love for the high-stepping symbol of the university and the state's heritage functions to empower adoring fans and university alumni to ignore the history (e.g., genocide) and its lingering residue (such as legal title to stolen land) from which they continue to reap untold benefit.

When read through the lens of an American Indian-centered history, so-called "Chief" Illiniwek is a tragic hero, a defeated "warrior" and spiritual guide who offers a cathartic reproof of his ancestors' past injustices. Huddleston's chief is an example of imperialist nostalgia, a widespread tactic used by colonial powers like Australia, Canada, the United States, and New Zealand to cover up domination and transform those responsible for the oppression of indigenous peoples (including American Indians) to act as innocent bystanders.
For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots.

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