21, No. 16, March 21, 2002
Options are to retain or retire the Chief
By Sharita Forrest,
(217) 244-1072; firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bill Wiegand
or retire chief UI
trustee Roger Plummer reports before the UI Board of Trustees
and a crowded room in Illini Union Rooms B and C on March
Chief Illiniwek or retire him with dignity
there is no compromise, Trustee Roger Plummer told the UI Board
of Trustees at its March 13 meeting in Urbana.
Plummer was appointed by the board at its May 23, 2001, meeting to find
a compromise solution between retaining and retiring the Urbana campuss
No action was taken.
Plummer prefaced his report by acknowledging that some constituents
objected to his appointment to research the Chief issue because he has
voiced support for keeping the symbol. Plummer said he "pleaded
guilty" to a lack of complete objectivity but added that he "could
be as fair as anyone" in his evaluation.
Plummer reported that "it is abundantly clear that there is no
compromise available" because pro- and anti-Chief supporters are
so polarized that it is impossible to find a resolution that a sizable
majority of constituents would endorse.
If the board decides
to keep the Chief, it should also strengthen support for the symbol
and bolster the tradition surrounding him, making changes that render
the symbol less offensive while preserving the dance, the Chief graphic
image and the Fighting Illini and Illini monikers.
Furthermore, the university should devise a meaningful form of recognition
for the importance of Native Americans to the state of Illinois, Plummer
However, if the trustees decide to dispense with the Chief, the university
should retire its symbol including the graphic image and the
dance in an "honorable" and respectful fashion "that
does not demean, devalue nor apologize for this 75-year-old tradition,"
A definite date for the Chiefs retirement should be established
and a transition plan developed by President James J. Stukel and Chancellor
Nancy Cantor with input from other parties, including the Alumni Association
and the UI Foundation.
The tradition of Chief Illiniwek is associated with elements such as
the Chiefs dance, the Chief graphic image and the names Fighting
Illini and Illini. Some anti-Chief constituents make distinctions among
the various components and do not view them equally, Plummer said.
Even if the symbol is retired, Plummer recommended retaining the Fighting
Illini and Illini monikers, names that were applied first to the UI
student paper in 1874 and were later used to refer to students, alumni
and finally to the universitys athletic teams. The term Illini
predated Chief Illiniwek by 50 years and was a variant of the state
name, Illinois, that should be retained to honor the campus heritage,
Plummer said he also consulted administrators at other universities
that have weathered similar controversies about the use of Native American
symbols, such as Dartmouth, Stanford and Miami University of Ohio. However,
such universities have dealt with the problem in dissimilar fashions,
and as a result there is no "ready prescription" available
to the UI, Plummer told the board.
Dartmouth, Stanford and Miami University have not suffered financially
because of their decisions to eliminate their Native American symbols,
In his report, Plummer did draw parallels between the UI and Miami University
of Ohio because both schools had once had but lost the endorsement of
a Native American tribe for its symbol.
The Peoria Tribe of Illinois formally requested that the university
discontinue its use of Chief Illiniwek in April 2000.
"The experience of other major institutions those that rank
in prestige with the UI that have dealt with this issue shows
that ultimately the voice of the Native American community must be heard,
listened to and responded to," Plummer said. "Once it has
become evident that objections are coming from thoughtful advocates
from the Native American community, the universitys ultimate response
needs to acknowledge them, whichever alternative is chosen."
Plummers report was the result of a nine-month investigation comprising
interviews with more than 50 people, including individuals and groups
of students, faculty members, alumni, Native Americans and other citizens.
"This report highlights for me the defects of the dialogue process,"
said Trustee Lawrence Eppley at the conclusion of Plummers report.
"Of all the comments received from every constituency, this is
the one that helps the most."
Although several board members commended Plummer for his work on the
report, the trustees did not render a decision on the Chief issue. Trustee
Gerald Shea said that the board would meet in the near future to consider
Plummers report further.
In a press briefing following the meeting, Plummer told reporters, "I
am not naive enough to believe a solution would have everyone feel better
overnight. But the board needs to make a decision and stand by it."