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home : insight & opinion : letters to the editor September 30, 2014

3/14/2007 12:48:00 PM
The chief vs. Native American 'wannabes'


I like other Illini fans was saddened to see Chief Illiniwek perform his last dance. It just so happens that right after the performance I read an article by Professor Ward Churchill, University of Colorado. For those of you who don't recall, Ward Churchill is the professor who stirred a great deal of controversy after the World Trade Center attack by saying that the victims were " technocrats" and " little Eichmanns" and more or less claiming they got what they deserved, and naturally blamed the U.S. for the deaths.

For a little background on Ward Churchill, he was born in 1942 in Elmwood, Ill. He graduated from Sangamon State University, now the U. of. I. Springfield, with a B.A. and M.A. in communications. Most recently he was Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado. Churchill served in Vietnam and claimed to have trained as a paratrooper and an LRP, a long-range patrol that goes behind the lines for reconnaissance. According to Wikipedia, checks with the Army under the Freedom of Information Act revealed Churchill was a film projectionist and light truck driver. A 2005 Denver Post story says Churchill stated in 1987 that serving in Vietnam radicalized him and that he was a member of the Weather Underground, where he claimed he taught members bomb-making and sabotage. The Underground and the FBI both deny Churchill's membership in that organization. Churchill has since refuse to comment on his 1987 statements.

Churchill claims to be a Native American, and claims membership in the Creek and Cherokee tribes. According to the Rocky Mountain News, a 1930 census record shows that both of his parents were Caucasian and there is no evidence of any single Native American ancestor.

In Churchill's 1993 article entitled "Crimes Against Humanity" Churchill mentions team names such as, Seminoles, Fighting Illini, Chiefs, Braves, and Indians as being insulting. He raves about mascots "parading around" in feathers, buckskins, beads, spears, and war paint. Is he implying that Native Americans never wore such articles? He equates having Native American names and mascots with genocide. Churchill also recommends that if we can have Native American team names, that we can also use names that encompass ethnic slurs and hate speech; he cites several such terms. In spite of the fact that he is not Native American, Churchill constantly uses the term "we" when referring to Native Americans. And this real gasser is a direct quote from his article: "Think about what it means when non-Indian academics profess - as they do often - to know more about Indians than Indians themselves."

The next time you think about Chief Illiniwek's last dance, don't blame real Native Americans. Blame people like Ward Churchill. Which is worse: naming your team after a tribe, or claiming to teach a terrorist organization how to build bombs? Whether some people like it or not, the U.S. has a Native American heritage and naming your team, state, city, river, or anything else is meant to honor or remember the tribe. How is a tribal name any more insulting than Spartans, Fighting Irish, Trojans, Boilermakers, Aggies or Miners?

As for the NCAA's ruling against the Chief, it is indeed arbitrary. The Chiefs, the Illini, Utes, Aztecs, Chippewas: none of these are insults. As for a mascot being non-authentic or hostile, look into the history of the Seminole tribe. They were not Plains Indians on horseback, and Chief Illiniwek does not throw a spear into the ground at the beginning of a game. I myself believe preventing a team from naming their team as they choose is a violation of their freedom of speech. I looked this up on a legal Web site. In reference to "Congress shall make no law prohibiting the freedom of speech," the site said the last Supreme Court Justice that took the word "no" to mean "no" was Hugo Black. Perhaps a law student could explain this better, but we laymen have a legal term for this - crap. The way I read this freedom is that people can use what speech they choose unless it causes an immediate danger, such as a riot or panic.

So fellow Illini fans, the next time you miss the Chief blame people like Ward Churchill, not real Native Americans. As an update, the University of Colorado has relieved Ward Churchill of his duties pending final termination. This was not for his comments on 911. This was for research misconduct in his writings, i.e. plagiarism.

Go Illini,

Keith Nash


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