Below are questions that community members have submitted to us, and the answers we have provided.
Have something on your mind that you'd like us to answer? Ask us now!
Gary asks: “I stopped donating money to the University when they dropped the Chief as our symbol. Aside from withholding my donation, how can I make a difference?”
Answer: Donate to us! As an organization, we feel the University has dropped the ball when it comes to taking the opportunity to honor the Indigenous history of the State of Illinois and beyond. If they won’t do it, we will! Together, we’ll make sure the impact of Indigenous Illini is not forgotten!
Baylie asks: “As a white person, I feel like I am not allowed to have an opinion as to whether or not the Chief should be allowed. I am wondering if it is offensive for a white person to wear clothing with the Chief on it, since it is not an issue that impacts white people.”
Answer: Is it racist for a white person to enjoy a taco? Can Hispanics eat a horseshoe? We believe that culture is meant to be shared, and sharing the things we enjoy with the people we care about.
Remember, the Chief Tradition was created to recognize Indigenous Illini and the history of our state. Now, it is certainly true that you cannot tell the history of Illinois without acknowledging the many Native tribes that once called the state home, but just as the Illini Confederation and Fighting Illini War Battalion understood that the real value of human cooperation comes from putting aside those differences, the Chief tradition is made to be accessible for anyone of any culture who has ever called Illinois home.
Wearing your Chief clothing is an excellent way to show that you understand the history of your state and are proud to call Illinois home. It is also an excellent way to share that pride with others, and educate those who may not know about the rich culture and history that we care about.
Make sure to visit our merchandise page to pick up some fresh gear, and wear it proudly, Baylie!
Armando asks: “I have heard from your website that you do not follow the traditional dress and dance of the Illini federation? Why do you not consider this cultural misappropriation and continue to call it a unifying symbol?”
Answer: As a confederation, the Native peoples of Illinois were very diverse in terms of their cultural practices. Just as styles as traditions change in our society today, so too did Native cultures. As such, there is no “one-size-fits-all” dance or regalia that represents every culture perfectly.
When the Chief tradition was incepted, University leaders reached out to the Lakota Sioux for their blessing. At the time, this was a logical choice, as Lester Leutwiler and Ralph Hubbard already had connections with the Sioux Nation, who were also a well-known tribe. If they had gone looking for the Illiniwek Confederation descendants in 1926, they would not have been able to find them. Many of those Indian Nations had moved West and were reorganizing and/or consolidating with other tribes.
The Sioux continued to give their blessing over the Chief tradition for many years, with respected elder and Chief Frank Fools Crow even visiting Memorial Stadium to present a new regalia.
The Chief tradition is not the only practice that deviates from strict adherence to historical accuracy. Visit any pow-wow today and you are likely to see dancers wearing beaded sneakers adorned with brightly colored neon beads. Many of these dancers compete, wearing paper numbers on their backs as they perform a set fancy dance routine. Bright beads, tennis shoes, and competitive dancing were hardly traditional tenants, but we involve them in modern pow-wows to spark interest with those unfamiliar with the culture and engage a younger generation with passion and excitement for a modern take on a classic practice.
In the same way, the Chief tradition is rooted heavily in the style of traditional fancy dance, while making sure that the performance serves to excite and engage, keeping a bridge to our history and tradition alive for another generation.
Anonymous asks: “Although the Peoria Tribe once supported the role, their current official position does not support the use of any Native imagery. If the tribe that can come closest to stating ownership over these cultural symbols actively opposes their use: why are we pressing the University to bring these symbols back? Why should we act in opposition to the will of the Peoria Tribe?”
Answer: The important thing to remember when we talk about the Peoria, is that they are a governing body, in which a small group of elected officials do their best to represent the tribe as a whole. However, just as we as Americans may not always agree with our President, so too can attitudes among the general populous change. Furthermore, these elected officials are subject to change. Just because one leader has taken a stance, doesn’t mean the door is closed forever on many decades of tradition. Executive orders and constitutional amendments can be revisited and revised, the same as any other law or edict.
The Peoria have weighed in several times on the issue of the Chief. In 1995, Don Giles, then Chief of the Peoria Tribe, said, "To say that we are anything but proud to have these portrayals would be completely wrong. We are proud. We're proud that the University of Illinois, the flagship university of the state, a seat of learning, is drawing on that background of our having been there. And what more honor could they pay us?" Supporting Chief Giles was another tribal elder, Ron Froman, who stated that the protesters "don't speak for all Native Americans, and certainly not us."
It was only after meeting with University students and faculty, in the early 2000s, that representatives of the Peoria changed their views. Will they change again? It is our hope that the Peoria, and other tribes that once called Illinois home, will see the opportunity for education and engagement surrounding Native culture and history and help us take an active role in bringing that resource back to the people of Illinois and beyond.