The Public Square

Jim Berger on Chief Illiniwek


Five weeks ago on Friday, August 5th of 2005, the NCAA Executive Committee issued guidelines for use of Native American mascots at NCAA championship events.

Some of you may have heard about that already....

Hi. I'm Jim Berger, and I'm back in town.

Yes, the University of Illinois is one of among 18 schools that the NCAA singled out as maintaining "hostile or abusive" mascots, nicknames, or imagery. And that has been the talk of the town.

The controversy made national news on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer two weeks ago on Thursday, August 25, 2005 (see This commentary was recorded on Thursday, September 8, 2005. On the News Hour, Native American Charlene Keeters fought back tears before the cameras as she recounted the shock, anguish, distress and outrage she and her two children experienced at the sight of a non-indigenous dancer, decked out in 19th-century, Native-American garb, performing at the half-time of a University of Illinois athletic event.

Indeed, the Web site speaks at considerable length about the intrinsic racism of this icon. That's right! If you actually thought that Chief Illiniwek was a wholesome symbol of a set of virtues to which we all might aspire, the racist label applies to you too.

I could go on; however, "The Public Square" affords us but three minutes together. What you can do is look to the write-up of this commentary at the community segment of the WILL Web site to glean all of the Web links to my source material. That is at

And then Google the topic to find your own leads.

Look for yourself and draw your own conclusions. I refer you to the "Retire The Chief" site ( where you will find U. of I. professor Tyeeme Clark dismissing critics of the anti-chief movement as "callous, cruel, unfeeling, and hard-headed."

I also refer you to PhD Jim Fay's posting at Chief entitled "The Roots of the Chief Illiniwek Tradition at the University of Illinois" (see The historical background of this tradition does run in defiance of those "who were determined to impose civilization on the Indians whether they wanted it or not."

Seventy years ago a lot of Native Americans did not want "civilization"-which really was nothing more than arrogant, European culture-imposed on them. Native Americans worked hand-in-hand with those at The University of Illinois who honored traditional Indian culture expressly so as to preserve that culture at a time when it was under siege.

Indeed, to this day, Chief Illiniwek remains a touchstone for thousands to those who went before us.

Well, there is so much more to explore, but my time is up.

Thank you for your consideration. And whatever you decide, may your own conclusions be informed and truly balanced.