Chief choice must reflect Il. heritage

By Jeremy Pelzer

SPRINGFIELD – The Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution Thursday stating that any solution to the Chief Illiniwek controversy should preserve and celebrate American Indian and Illinois heritage.

What the resolution means for the future of Chief Illiniwek is unclear. University President James Stukel, who co-authored the resolution with board chairman Lawrence Eppley, said the resolution was simply an attempt to have supporters and opponents of the controversial mascot “step back” from the heated rhetoric surrounding the issue and work to find common ground.

The board decided in June that any resolution to the Chief Illiniwek issue would have to be a “consensus conclusion,” – where all sides agree – and that more dialogue on the issue was needed.

Thursday’s resolution stated that “in implementing a consensus solution, it shall be the policy of the University and the Urbana-Champaign campus that the State’s heritage and its American Indian culture and traditions shall be preserved, affirmed and publicly celebrated.”

The resolution “change(s) the dialogue from ‘honoring’ to finding people’s heritage of Native Americans,” Stukel said. “Heritage has a very different meaning than honor.”

Stukel said the resolution also was meant to ensure that American Indian heritage will continue to be publicly celebrated in some way at the University.

“The PRC, they don’t want to have any recognition of Native Americans (through) activities in campus,” Stukel said, referring to the Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative (PRC), an anti-Chief group.

Nikki Ditchman, a PRC member, disputed Stukel’s statement.

“The PRC has been working in conjunction with Native communities for years in an attempt to remove Chief Illiniwek,” she said.

Eppley said in recent years people have been forced to choose whether they were for or against Chief Illiniwek, with no middle ground.

“There’s anxiety for people because they’re not sure which camp they’re in,” Eppley said. “There’s anxiety because sometimes they change camps, sometimes more than once a day – not only for the public, but even people on the board.”

The resolution states that the board has to stay aware of the heritage of both American Indians and University tradition, Eppley said.

Stukel said the resolution was not meant to determine the fate of Chief Illiniwek.

“The Chief might survive, it might not survive,” he said.

Michael Bordieri, co-coordinator for the PRC, said the resolution’s attempt to change the Chief debate from “honoring” to “heritage” did not address the root of the problem.

“We feel it’s great that he (Stukel) is expanding his vocabulary, but it (the resolution) does nothing,” Bordieri said. “If they (board members) truly want to celebrate Native heritage, their very first action should be to eliminate the mockery of culture that is Chief Illiniwek.”

Nick Klitzing, president of Students for Chief Illiniwek, said the Board’s actions Thursday were “an important first step in the resolution process.

“We need to show that both pro- and anti-Chief (people), we both believe in and respect heritage,” he said.