Chief Illiniwek issue steps closer to vote by students

By Paolo Cisneros

Students for Chief Illiniwek has collected the required number of student signatures to add a referendum question regarding the issue of Chief Illiniwek to the student elections ballot.

The election will take place later this month.

“I wanted to present a question about the Chief to the campus,” said Roberto Martell, an officer of Students for Chief Illiniwek and sophomore in LAS. “I felt it had to be asked.”

The question will ask students whether or not they support the reinstatement of Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University, which is refueling intense feelings on both sides of the debate.

“Students are finally going to have a say in this,” said Paul Schmitt, president of Students for Chief Illiniwek, junior in LAS and former Illini Media employee. “No one asked us when they retired the Chief.”

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Community members who were happy to see the Chief go, however, could not disagree more.

“Students had plenty of opportunities to voice their opinions about the retirement of the Chief before it actually happened,” said Jen Tayabji, former University student and Illinois Disciples Foundation employee. “Prior to the decision, there were all sorts of board meetings, events and questions on ballots for previous student elections.”

The arguments surrounding the retirement of the Chief are hardly new to the University community, but the question on the student ballot is a step in the “right direction for a cause that has popular support from the student body,” Schmitt said.

“Students overwhelmingly have been very positive about this referendum,” he said. “There are also plenty of Native Americans both here on campus and across the nation that support our cause.”

The American Indian Studies Program declined to comment on the referendum.

Tayabji said students have a right to be upset about the decision to retire the Chief, but she disagrees with the student referendum question as a means of building support for their cause.

“I think it’s detrimental because we’re talking about a human rights issue here, and I really don’t think human rights issues should be left up to any particular population of students,” she said. “The popular decision isn’t always the way to go in situations like these.”

Martell said his position is that the Chief embodies many virtues, including loyalty, bravery and honesty.

“This symbol is everything U of I students should be,” he said.

The question that will appear on the ballot is awaiting approval from the student elections board amidst the objections of Tayabji and other like-minded University students.

“The Chief in all its aspects hurts the University and how we’re perceived,” Tayabji said. “Chief Illiniwek was never a real person. It’s just a caricature of what our culture thinks native people are.”