As a former student of the University of Illinois, Robin Allen, associate professor of the School of Social Work, remembers how the student body would rally around the school’s mascot, Chief Illiniwek, during home
“I just thought it was this really special moment,” Allen said. “I didn’t get it.”
Chief Illiniwek was University of Illinois’ mascot from 1926 to 2007. He represented the Illinois Confederation, also known as the Illiniwek, the state’s namesake.
In 2006, the NCAA cited 19 university teams as having team mascots that were potentially “hostile and abusive” to minorities, including the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Savages, Florida State University Seminoles and the University of Illinois’ Chief Illiniwek.
“I didn’t understand when people started protesting the Chief, because I thought he was so respected,” Allen said. “Then, one day, I walked into a coffee shop and it was a game day. There happened to be a group of Native Americans in the coffee shop … And I think I had an insight right in that moment: that would be really embarrassing if I was wearing this character of them on my shirt … and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, Chief needs to go.’”
Chief Illiniwek was officially banned in 2007, but the controversy of Native American mascots in sports lives on.
This issue will come directly to Boise State with the screening of “In Whose Honor?” on Nov. 6. The film and discussion event is hosted by the Foundational Studies Program, Intertribal Native Council and the Phi Alpha Honor Society and will take place in room 101 of the Multipurpose Classroom Building at 6 p.m.
According to Allen, the discussion of racism in sports has been reignited by the modern-day poster child of the controversy: the Washington Redskins.
In May 2013, Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, told USA Today, “We will never change the name of the team.”
After having lost trademark protection earlier this year, the team has been under intensive pressure
to do so.
Steven Leekity, head chair of the Intertribal Native Council at Boise State, stated that the impact of a ruling on the Washington Redskins would be very significant.
“The NFL is a big thing here in the United States. If the Redskins’ name gets changed in a more honorable way, and more respected way, I believe it will make a great impact through all the great nation here,”
The Native American mascots sports controversy is a widespread issue; according to the MascotDB—which has 42,624 high school, college and pro teams in the country on file—over 2,000 team names in the country reference Native Americans.
At the heart of the issue is a lack of cultural sensitivity present in the depersonalization of minority groups through the use of caricature-able images.
According to Allen, even if the Florida State Seminoles have been approved to use that symbol and the students at Florida State are respectful, other teams may continue to use the mascot in an offensive way and say “really disgusting things” that fail to respect that the image is representative of a person.
“When you actually look somebody in the eye it is a lot harder to justify supporting this image,” Allen said.
Allen and Leekity agreed that it is very important to encourage civil discourse on this topic.
“We’re the next generation here of students,” Leekity said. “If we educate the students now, they could make a big difference … That’s one way we’re trying to bring it out is to educate people about this issue here, and the cultural impact that it has and trying to debunk some stereotypical issues that have been brought up.”