Chief to re-emerge at ‘Next Dance’ amid protests

As homecoming weekend arrives, mixed opinions surround the approaching of the Chief’s Next Dance.

Students for Chief Illiniwek will host The Next Dance at 7 p.m. Friday at Assembly Hall to commemorate the former mascot of the University, while other students will be protesting the event.

Elyse Eilts, president of Students for Chief Illiniwek and senior in LAS, said she organizes many events throughout the year to promote the Chief tradition and native Illinois culture.

“Our events are meant to be catalysts to promote and educate people about native Illinois culture, not to be offensive towards any group of people,” Eilts said.

The Next Dance will include an introduction of the Chief tradition, appearances from former chiefs, the Chief’s dance and a speech from Glenn “Red Knife” Barnhill, president of the Grand Village of Kickapoo State Park in Oakwood, Ill.

Eilts said she expects a good turnout for the event because tickets are free for students with a valid i-card. She also said the event is a fundraiser for the renovation and enhancement of Kickapoo National Park.

“We see the Chief as more that just four and a half minutes at halftime. It’s more than just supporting the team. It’s about supporting where the people of this state came from originally,” Eilts said. “That’s what our whole goal is. We see him as a positive symbol of that. Even though his dance and his regalia are not native to the Illini people, they are native dances that were taught by native people elsewhere.”

Others are organizing Friday to protest the continued reemergence of the University’s discontinued mascot.

“The University has shown its commitment to remove the mascot, and we need to honor that,” said Belinda De La Rosa, interim director of the Native American House.

The IResist Coalition, a social justice organization, is one of the student organizations protesting The Next Dance. The group will be marching from the Alma Mater to the Assembly Hall where they will rally in response to Students for Chief Illiniwek’s Next Dance, according to a press release from the organization.

“I will be at the rally on Friday”, said Ryan Jameson, junior in ACES. “It was a huge milestone for the University to discontinue the Chief and I feel like events like this takes the purpose away from the struggles that people have endured to discontinue the mascot.”

Other schools have mascots similar to Chief Illiniwek, but if Native Americans have a problem with the mascot it should be discontinued, said Ashok Poozhikunnel, freshman in LAS.

“Students can still do whatever they want, though,” he added.

De La Rosa said she is saddened and disappointed by events such as the Next Dance, which demonstrate the lack of development on the part of students at the University.

“Students are not moving beyond tolerance to acceptance and empathy for other people and understanding that this is not in any way honoring anybody,” De La Rosa said. “It’s not even called a ceremony or ritual, it’s called a dance because it is not legitimate in any way.”

Amidst the controversy that the Chief has created, Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman, said the University is a place where students can learn to listen to the thoughts and ideas of others while maintaining their freedom of speech.

“We have student organizations for and against all sorts of things. And again it falls under that umbrella of free speech rights,” Kaler said.