Letter submitted by the NCRSM in response to University of Illinois Counsel Thomas Bearrows:
February 23, 2000
Thomas R. Bearrows
University of Illinois
Office of University Counsel (MC225)
405 Administrative Office Building
1737 West Polk Street
Chicago, IL 60612-7228
Dear Counsel Bearrows:
Thank you for your invitation to submit in writing our suggestions regarding processes the University might implement to develop an appropriate strategy for addressing the upcoming dialogue regarding the use of Chief Illiniwek. We herein propose the following:
First and foremost, we believe that this dialogue should not be reduced merely to a popularity contest. Rather, the discussion should focus on understanding the implications of using racial images as institutional symbols/mascots. Any such dialogue should analyze and incorporate extant research (legal and academic) on the use of such imagery, including all the correspondence, resolutions and information received in the past ten years. To facilitate this discussion we suggest the formation of a review committee to collect, analyze, and submit findings in this regard. This committee should be comprised of Native American representatives and educational specialists, native and non-native academics and attorneys, and members of the local and national community (NAACP, religious organizations, etc.).
The questions to be assessed in this study should entail not only the Chief's alleged negative impact, but also the Chief's alleged positive impact and a clear identification of the affected constituency. Specifically, the questions addressed should include:
(1) Does Chief Illiniwek have a positive impact on Native Americans on campus, in the community, in the state or at the National level? Does Chief Illiniwek have a positive impact on any constituency? What exactly are these benefits?
(2) Does the production of alcoholic beverage accoutrements (shot glasses, beer mugs, etc.) with the head of an Indian (Chief Illiniwek logo) on them perpetuate a negative connection between Indians and alcohol? How do these images impact Native American children in the Champaign/Urbana community? How far reaching are these effects in the state of Illinois?
(3) Is there a connection between the steady low recruitment and retention of Native students and faculty at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus and its use of a native mascot/symbol?
(4) How does the outside academic community view this use of Native American imagery, by the University of Illinois? What is the real financial and academic effect of learned societies boycotting the University of Illinois and the state until the mascot is abandoned?
Second, we suggest that the committee review the importance of establishing an American Indian Studies Program. The establishment of an academic program would be appropriate and reasonable if the University of Illinois is really interested in bringing a level of seriousness and respect to this topic.
Third, we suggest several public hearings be held throughout the state to report the findings of the review committee and to ensure maximum public participation in this dialogue.
Finally, we hope that you consider that in the recent cancellation of the Washington football team's trademarks, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board held in Harjo v. Pro Football Inc., TTAB, Canc. No. 21069, 4/2/99 that any disparagement (negative impact) was to be determined by the context of contemporary attitudes, not the original intent of fans. In addition, please bear in mind that the Appeal Board considered the views of Native Americans rather than the views of the general public.
We look forward to meeting and working with you on this important process.
Michael S. Haney
Chair, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
United States Department of Justice
President, University of Illinois
Chair, Board of Trustees, University of Illinois
Secretary, Board of Trustees, University of Illinois
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs
Governmental Affairs Associate, National Congress of American Indians