Native American Cultural month stirs Chief Illiniwek controversy

 

 

By Rosemary Powers

The Chief Illiniwek controversy has gained momentum after the Nov. 15 Assembly Hall event featuring a performance of the retired University symbol. Now, some students are questioning what both sides have to say in the ongoing issue.

On Monday night, cultural centers across campus came together at the Illini Union to sponsor an event to promote Native American cultural awareness on campus. The event, titled “What’s the Deal with the Chief?,” included participation from the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, the Asian American Cultural Center, the African American Cultural Center, and the Office of Women’s Programs.

The event presented a brief history of the Chief Illiniwek tradition as well as a group discussion among students.

“The purpose of this event is to create a dialogue among students.

“There isn’t really an opportunity for students to talk,” said Ross Wantland, coordinator of sexual assault education at the University. “Either nothing gets said, or there’s heated debate.”

Students attending the event used the discussion time to realize the importance of the issue to campus.

“This is such an important event because many students are impacted across campus. Some see the Chief being taken away as a sort of loss of pride for the University,” said Karolina Maslanka, freshman in LAS.

The Native American cultural center did not participate in this event. The center did, however, release a statement earlier this month in regard to the Nov. 15 Chief dance, saying it was a “step backwards” in changing the climate of inclusion on campus.

Robert Warrior, professor and director at the Native American house, said that the mission of the Native American house and the American Indian Studies program was to “create an environment where Native American students can come achieve their educational goals. We also want to provide people the opportunity to learn about the history of our people.”

Last Saturday’s Chief Dance yielded an estimated attendance of 9,000 students in support of returning the Chief.

Logan Ponce, the portrayer of Chief Illiniwek, continued that the current regalia was actually given to the University by the Lakota Sioux Native American tribe.

“The chief is something you really don’t see anywhere else except at the U of I,” Ponce said.

“It is such an amazing part of native culture.”