While many of us were ringing in the New Year with friends and family to begin 2018, former Chief and HTCS board member Ivan A. Dozier was on an airplane to Uganda. Ivan helped plant trees, spent some time working on a farm, and donated some of our “Continuing Tradition” shirts to the locals. We wanted to share with you some of Ivan’s impressions from the trip:
“One of the things I realized on this trip was my passion for sharing culture. When I travel, it’s not just about seeing exotic locations or landmarks; the true value for me comes from meeting people and learning from their unique perspectives and experiences. Of course, I returned the favor, as well, because I believe that culture is something that is most valuable when shared and celebrated.
I worry that this facet of diversity is sadly lost by many at the University of Illinois. At Illinois, too many professors and administrators seem caught up in who they feel is allowed to access culture; more concerned with what they want than what is best for the community. What people fail to realize when they try to limit others is the value in celebrating unique culture and the true diversity that it brings. Rather than focusing on what I can take away, I have made it my mission to protect and share what we have.
That’s why when I embarked on my trip, I brought with me a bundle on brand new Chief shirts to share with my new friends. One of the ongoing programs at UIUC is a t-shirt buyback initiative, where organizations like the Native American House are offering to take and destroy people’s ‘racist’ t-shirts. In practice, their definition of a ‘racist’ shirt is any garment that features Native American imagery…the Chief or otherwise. This past semester, ISG members Raneem Shamseldin and Tara Chattoraj-Mukherjee successfully petitioned for over $10,000 of taxpayer funds towards projects to eliminate Native imagery on campus.
While the ISG continues to focus on what they can take away from people, I instead look to give. For a fraction of the price, and using my own money rather than the public’s, I was able to order a batch of shirts and hand-deliver them to people in need. The locals loved them! They were happy to receive new shirts as a gift, rather than the faded and worn shirts that often arrive in donation boxes from the States. They appreciated the symbol as well, saying it reminded them of their local tribal and spiritual leaders. They also were familiar with the word ‘Chief,’ both from describing their traditional leaders, but also in a more modern context, as the “Chiefs” is not an uncommon soccer club name.
One thing that was a little disheartening for me, was learning that the people of Uganda largely aren’t even aware of Native American people, let alone Native American cultural history. Though this was disappointing to hear initially, it was amazing to see the Chief symbol in action. Because they were exposed to the Chief, they began to ask questions about the people and the culture that it represented. These people that didn’t even know Native Americans existed were engaged and interested in learning about the rich cultural heritage that we fight to preserve on the other side of the world…and it all started with a symbol. I’ve always felt the Chief served as an important bridge in our community, often acting as the first step getting people engaged and interested in learning about Native culture. It was amazing to see that role in action, especially in a community other than our own.
Whether it be in the distant jungle of Uganda, or in our own backyard, the chief has and always will have the power that we give to it. If we remain strong with our ideals of preservation of unity, we can see those values reflecting in the people around us…making the world a better place with every opportunity in which we choose not to take, but to share.