February 15, 2009

Signs recall Illinois Indians

From a press release by way of educator Debbie Reese:

Edgar Heap of Birds' Exhibit:  Beyond the ChiefIn his exhibit "Beyond the Chief" on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, signs and language remind the campus community whose land they occupy: this includes the Peoria-Piankesaw-Kaskaskia-Wea Homelands. The signs are now installed along West Nevada Street.

By using media that resembles official city and state signage, Heap of Birds creates a conceptual space in a given environment that reinforces the historic and political presence of American Indian communities that live within these lands.
(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 2/12/09.)

From the exhibit's website:

Beyond the Chief | Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds"Beyond the Chief" provides an opportunity for those of us at the University of Illinois to consider the indigenous history of our campus and the state in which we live. The signs in this public art exhibit include the names of a dozen Indigenous peoples whose homelands are within the boundaries of the state of Illinois. Many of these peoples continue today with viable governments, cultures, and languages. All of them remain, even if some are only remnants of what they once were. Members of these groups live, learn, and work on campus. We at Native American House and American Indian Studies hope "Beyond the Chief" helps all of us who share our campus learn more about those whose homelands we occupy.

Comment:  Reese describes the reaction to the signs:Some pass right past the signs, absorbed in their thoughts or conversations, but once someone notices one, the entire group slows down, trying to make sense of the sign.People's reactions seem muted, which doesn't surprise me. The exhibit doesn't seem like an especially effective way to make a point about the phony Chief Illiniwek. To me, a display such as the one below would be more effective.

For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots.

Fake Illinois Indian                        Real Illinois (Peoria) Indian

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