Over at the blogora sometime this weekend while I was at my conference, Jim Aune posted something of a provocation about The Chief. Since then he and the other blogoroggers have posted about other topics, and since the discussion might get buried, I thought I'd like to revive it here to see what people think (and of course, to say what I do). Basically, Aune wonders why academics who otherwise argue for polysemy believe that this mascot has one meaning. Aune seems to be conflating what's going on here at Illinois with other eruptions about native team names, a la the Stanford Indians, which, by the way, was changed to Cardinal in 1972--that's thirty-five years ago by my count. But U.S. trends, they say, creep eastward.
Aune also wonders what this move will do to help native americans economically, a point that on its face should be allowed to stand, but I also do wonder how such stereotypical portrayals continue to affect actual economic prospects--here I'm thinking jobs in the central Illinois region--for American Indians.
When considering the question of local economics, it's important to remember that what we're talking about here is not a team name. To compare the Chief to the Indians dilutes the point, so I want to make sure people outside of this community know that The Chief refers to the painted, buckskinned, befeathered undergraduate who performs halftime dances that bear no resemblance at all to tribal dances, and that instead appear to have been derived from old westerns and cowboy-and-indian myths. (Some have said too that The Chief in recent years has been a particularly bad dancer, with which I have to agree!) Aune claims as well that there's not clear consensus among American Indians on this topic, and again, I think he's referring to mascots in general, not The Chief, because there has been a surprising degree of uniformity about this particular iteration of American Indian identity. Here are some examples.
Having the Chief dance around at half time is tantamount to erecting a giant statue of a black lawn jockey in front of Assembly Hall. I mean, come on.
For the record, the name "The Fighting Illini" will be kept.