Column: Why the Chief must go

By Matt Simmons

Many in the pro-Chief camp like to claim that nearly everything could be called offensive and argue that we would be stuck in a sterile world of political correctness. But, as popular as this rhetoric might be, it’s nothing but an easy way out.

First of all, the fact that people could be offended by anything does not mean that people are offended by everything. A lot of pro-chief supporters argue that if the Chief is offensive, so are mascots like the Vikings, the Fighting Irish, or the Blue Devils. But the outcry over these mascots is very minimal; in fact, I have never heard of anyone being genuinely upset by the Vikings or the Blue Devils. The Fighting Irish was created by a school that was composed of mostly Irish Catholic students, thus it cannot be assumed that Irish people have a problem with it.

Secondly, this argument makes no attempt to address the fundamental debate over the usage of the Chief as a symbol. While there is nothing illegal about burning or defacing an American flag, it is a slap to the face of anyone that served in the armed forces and their families. Making fun of the dead and mocking religious beliefs are legal, too, but any reasonable person with a sense of decency would recognize that such actions would be disrespectful and morally reprehensible. Appropriating the American Indian culture to portray stereotypical images of them through a cartoonish dance that reinforces these prejudices is just as unacceptable. And, even if the dance were 100 percent accurate, using American Indian images to create a symbol that entertains a bunch of drunken college kids at a football game is immoral.

Some will argue that minorities are being too sensitive and just easily offended. But I bet these people, the majority of whom are white, would change their tune if they were stereotyped in an insulting way. What if there were mascots called the Cocky Crusading Christians, the Italian Crime Lords or the White Devils? I bet the same people criticizing minorities would be clamoring to get rid of mascots offensive to them.

But the anti-Chief protesters need to do a better job explaining their views instead of simply saying the Chief offends people. The word “offensive” is an umbrella term for a lot of different feelings. People say they are offended when they are angry, when they feel someone is being unfair or when they are hurt. And they have plenty of sources to draw from. Michael Haney, the executive director of the American Indian Arbitration Institute, once quoted the general secretary of the Peoria Tribe who said, “I find the Chief Illiniwek hurtful and stereotypical, demeaning and dehumanizing.” This opinion should be given much weight, considering that the remaining members of the Illini confederation belong to the Peoria Tribe.

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    I was taught that when I was hurting people, I should stop, regardless of whether I thought they should be hurt or not. The Peoria Tribe and other American Indians have the right to decide whether they are hurt by the Chief, not the pro-Chief supporters. And they have every right to be hurt. Their culture and history is being belittled by distorting their heritage in creating a symbol that takes part in insignificant sports games that have no association to any American Indian culture. Imagine what it feels like to have people who have taken everything from you simplify your culture on top of it. Imagine that they take your culture and portray your history stereotypically for something as trivial as a game. The fact is the Chief hurts the Peoria Tribe and other Indians because it takes away their cultural pride, and it hurts people like me because I see good people not giving a damn about it.

    Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected].