Chief Illiniwek Essay

Are you anti-Chief or pro-Chief? Before I answered that question I decided to
educate myself on the topic and saw this research paper as the perfect
opportunity. What I wanted to know was when was the Chief Illiniwek introduce,
what the deal is with the dance, and who and why did this anti-Chief movement
start. The tradition of Chief Illiniwek was started on October 30, 1926, during
a football game against the University of Pennslyvania. Raymond Dvorak, who was
the Marching Illini director of the time, chose the person, Lester Leutweiler,
who portrayed the first Chief Illiniwek. Lester Leutweiler, a Caucasian, was
chosen because he had studied Native American dance and leather work as a Boy
Scout. Leutweiler made the first Chief Illiniwek custom and created the first
dance. Another University of Illinois student who was dressed up as the
University of Pennsylvania Quaker joined Lester, in the first dance. During the
performance, both came out on the field together. After they each puffed on a
peace pipe briefly, Lester performed the dance for the first time. (Beckham 3).

Since Lester Leutweiler, there have been 33 students to portray Chief Illiniwek,
one of which was a female student. (Beckham 8). The second student who portrayed
Chief Illiniwek was Webber Borchers. Borchers was the first student, who
portrayed Chief Illiniwek, to wear an authentic Native American outfit. He
traveled to a South Dakota reservation, where he stayed for a couple months, and
an elderly Native American woman and her apprentice handcrafted the outfit for
him. On September 25, 1982, Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow traveled to the
University of Illinois with fellow Sioux elders Anthony Whirlwind Horse and Joe
American Horse. (Chief Illiniwek 5) Chief Frank Fools Crow was considered the
greatest Native American spiritual leader of the 19th century. (

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During halftime ceremony, Chief Fools Crow gave the University of Illinois the
regalia that are currently worn by Chief Illiniwek. (Chief Illiniwek). The
regalia were Chief Fools Crow’s own, which was handcrafted by his wife. Many
say Chief Fools Crow was proud to present the University of Illinois with the
gift because his work and his wife’s would be shared and be seen by many.

“The power and the ways are given to us to be passed on to others. To think
anything else is pure selfishness. We get more by giving them away, and if we do
not give them away, we lose them.”-Fools Crow (

Sadly enough Chief Frank Fools Crow passed away in 1989. The dance Chief
Illiniwek performs during halftime is a pow-wow dance, which is a way of meeting
together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and
making new ones. (Deleary and Dashner 4). More specifically Chief Illiniwek is a
type of Oglala-Lakota Sioux dance called Fancy dance, which is celebratory in
nature, has no religious, war or ceremonial significance. (Tice 14). The origin
of Pow Wow (fancy dance) is believed to be the societies of the Poncha and other
Southern Plains tribes. These dances may have had different meaning in the past
but today they are social dances. Although dance styles and content have
changed, their meaning and importance has not. (Deleary and Dashner 4). The
dance consists of two main parts, the downfield dance and the solo dance. The
Chief performs the dance with the Marching Illini during what is called the
Three in One. The Three in One consists of three traditional University of
Illinois songs; “Pride of the Illini”, “March of the Illini”,
and “Hail to the Orange”. This celebrated tradition has been performed
at the conclusion of every halftime show in Memorial Stadium for nearly 75
years. ( The
performance begins as the band gathers in the center of the field. Marching
toward the north endzone in block band formation, band members sing “Pride
of the Illini” as thousands of onlookers clap in rhythm to the cadence of
the snare drum. As the Marching Illini nears the North endzone, the Chief
appears, bursts through the block band, and dances downfield toward the South
endzone. After the Chief reaches the south endzone, he returns to the center of
the field for the Alma Mater. During the downfield portion of the dance, the
Marching Illini, which has been marching in block band formation towards the
North endzone, performs a difficult countermarch maneuver and marches back
towards the center of the field spelling “ILLINI”. As the band
finishes spelling “ILLINI”, the Chief returns to the center of the
field. The downfield portion of the dance is now complete. (

On October 16,1998 I heard Charlene Teters, founder of anti-Chief movement,
speak at the University YMCA. The majority of those who intended were white
males and Latinos. She was one of three Native American students recruited to
the University of Illinois, to pursue her bachelor’s degree in art, from the
Art Institute of Native American. She is the mother of two children, a wife,
Senior Editor for Indian Artist Magazine and a Spokane Indian. When she first
arrived to the University of Illinois, she and the other two Native Americans
recruited walked around campus. What she, along with the other two students,
discovered was that the campus was insensitive to Native American students. They
found degrading images of the Chief; such as a bar, which was called home of the
Drinking Illini, with a falling intoxicated Indian, toilet paper with the
Chief’s face on every sheet, and a door mat with the Chief’s face on it
which was worn out. But at the time they had no support system to protest
against the issue. The reason she started the anti-Chief movement was for her
kids. She did not say in what year, but she took her two kids to a basketball
game and during the halftime show she noticed her kids slouch into their chair
like they wanted to disappear. What they saw was the Chief, which they had
always been taught to hold in high honor, making a fool of himself and thus
embarrassing Native Americans. At the following home game she, by herself,
decided to protest and she was treated without any respect. People spit on her,
kicked her, and the media tried to ridicule her. All this backfired and she won
support that she needed to start and continue to fight against the Chief.

Attractive, articulate and eloquent Ms. Teters is very often on-camera,
describing lucidly how and why she and many others feel that the Illiniwek type
of activities, symbols, logos, regalia, mascots –plus many inauthenticities–are
blows to Indian pride and self-esteem since they constitute non-respect of
important rituals. ( Another way
she protests against Chief Illiniwek is through her art and educating other
about the cons- of Chief Illiniwek. The most interesting form of her protest was
through her art. For example, she has drawn a caricature of Abraham Lincoln,
which completely ridicules him, but she calls it a symbol of pride honoring him”since we are in the Land of Lincoln.” So basically she uses it as a
comparison to the way the anti-Chief supporters view the Chief.


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