Campus calm one year after protest

Protestors for and against the chief gather at the Swanlund Administration Building on Thursday April 15, 2004. Today is the one- year anniversary of the start of the lockout. Daily Illini file photo

Protestors for and against the chief gather at the Swanlund Administration Building on Thursday April 15, 2004. Today is the one- year anniversary of the start of the lockout. Daily Illini file photo

By Teresa A. Sewell

Outside the Swanlund Administration Building on Friday and Saturday, the atmosphere was calm. There were no signs of the anti-Chief sit-in that took place one year ago this weekend, where dozens of protesters – including faculty, alumni, students and community members – demanded the removal of Chief Illiniwek as the University’s symbol.

Yet Chief Illiniwek has remained a symbol of the University. Many have been waiting for the school to take action in the final decision to either keep or remove the Chief, but in the past year, the Chief has not been as big an issue on campus as it has been in previous years.

Jen Tayabji, director of the Illinois Disciples Foundation and member of the Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative, said the PRC decided to “symbolically” take over the Swanlund Administration Building on April 15 after the April 2004 Board of Trustees meeting there was cancelled. Then-student trustee Nate Allen had planned to introduce a resolution at that meeting to eliminate Chief Illiniwek, but when the meeting was canceled by board chair Larry Eppley, the PRC decided to protest outside the building the same day and time the meeting was supposed to be held.

Initially, the protesters demanded that the Chief be eliminated before the sit-in would end. But after 33 hours, the protesters left the building after the University agreed not to take disciplinary action against the sit-in participants, scheduled meetings for anti-Chief representatives to meet with state legislators and allowed protesters to meet with the University’s accreditation agency.

Although the Chief was not eliminated because of the sit-in, Tayabji said the sit-in helped expand awareness of the Chief debate.

“We wanted to show them that it was that serious of an issue,” Tayabji said.

In the past year, the atmosphere on campus has hardly changed, and if anything has become more pro-Chief.

John McKinn, assistant director of the Native American House, said the campus climate towards the anti-Chief movement has gotten worse since the sit-in.

More students may have become pro-Chief this year due to an increase in school pride and honor following the basketball team’s successful season, he said.

McKinn said many students this year might look to the Chief for a way to represent their school pride.

The sit-in came amid other developments in the debate over Chief Illiniwek that favored the pro-Chief side, including the resignation of vocally anti-Chief Chancellor Nancy Cantor in March 2004.

Also in March 2004, Matthew Diller, a pro-Chief candidate, was elected student trustee. Before Diller’s election, the past three student trustees had favored retiring Chief Illiniwek. However, with Nick Klitzing’s election as student trustee last month, both trustees after the Swanlund sit-in have been past presidents of Students for Chief Illiniwek.

Klitzing declined to comment because of his new role with the BOT.

Gregory Meves, a senior in political science and internal vice president of Students for Chief Illiniwek, said the uproar over the Chief has died down this semester. Many members of Students for Chief Illiniwek have graduated, he said; right now, his group is trying to build membership and educate people on the Chief tradition, he said.

He said many students are pro-Chief, but do not realize the symbol can be something bigger. He said the group believes the Chief is a respectful symbol that helps promote awareness of American Indian culture and heritage. Students for Chief Illiniwek is working to use the support it has to increase the Chief’s educational value.

“It’s good that students support us, but that’s not enough,” Meves said.

Michael Bordieri, senior in LAS and PRC co-coordinator, said he is pleased that the sit-in elevated the attention of the issue and got the state legislature involved. However, Bordieri said he is disappointed that there have been no concrete results in the removal of the Chief or settling the issue.

In June 2004, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution calling for a “consensus conclusion” before the Chief issue could be resolved – although the board has not said what that term means, nor stated a plan about how such a conclusion would be reached. In September 2004, the board passed a second resolution saying that any solution to the Chief debate should honor Illinois’ American Indian heritage.

Thomas Hardy, University spokesman, said unfortunately this is one issue that many people strongly disagree about and the BOT is working towards a consensus.

Tom Livingston, who portrayed Chief Illiniwek in the late 1980s, described the Chief as a work of art.

“The Chief expresses majesty, grace and the good qualities inside of a world-class University, just like a painting,” Livingston said.

Livingston said although he respects everyone’s opinion, he has interacted with tribal communities and they have no problem with the Chief symbol.

McKinn said he is puzzled as to why there are no administrative leaders taking control of the Chief debate.

“I wonder what it is going to take for them to hear our voices,” McKinn said.