Letter: National sovereignty

Self-determination struggles presently carried on by American Indian nations have long histories. Indian peoples locate the authority for them in our cultures, not in the mythology of a benign conqueror.

In presenting the Guswentah, to mention one example of this point, Haudenausaunee diplomats explain its underlying logic of governing relations among different peoples in this way: “We shall each travel the river together, side by side in the same direction, neither interfering with the other, moving into the future, into infinity.”

Said plainly, indigenous ways of governing relations acknowledge the same human rights of self-determination recognized as belonging to the descendents of those peoples from Europe, citizens of the United States.

This is what makes Lawrence Eppley’s ongoing resistance to retiring Chief Illiniwek and the names “Illini” and “Fighting Illini” so dangerous. Eppley threatens the sovereignty of Indian nations. If this danger still is not clear to Indian peoples, the Oct. 13 appeal to the NCAA brings the matter into sharp focus.

The so-called “self-determination” of a university cannot trump the sovereignty of Indian nations. Looking at this matter from our perspectives, Eppley’s position is intolerable, indefensible and reprehensible. In April 2000, the government of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma spoke out unambiguously. Calling on the University to “recognize the demeaning nature…of Chief Illiniwek,” its official position remains relevant today: “cease the use of this mascot.”

Thus, Indian peoples – the citizens of Indian nations – cannot stand on the sidelines while Eppley ignores the position of our Peoria relatives and claims for himself the ability to manufacture a claim of self-determination over symbolism that every intellectually honest person understands is an explicit citation to the descendents of Indian peoples forcibly removed from this state. What is at stake today is too great.

What Eppley signals in representing the University as an opponent of sovereignty is that the time of confrontation has not ended. Because of his hostility to our sovereignty, the time for accommodation on our part must end.

D. Anthony Tyeeme Clark (Meskwaki)

University professor, American Indian Studies