Around Illinois Campuses: Protesters rally to end Chief Illiniwek

University of Illinois

William Cook has been fighting Chief Illiniwek for more than 10 years with few results. He has fielded late-night phone calls, received death threats and seen other protesters chased out of town, he said, but he keeps coming back.

Cook, 44, a self-described assimilated Cherokee and adopted Dakota Indian, was one of a group of students, University graduates and community members who gathered on the south side of the Illini Union to protest the Chief Wednesday night.

The event was organized by the Public Resource/Action Cooperative in response to the naming of B. Joseph White as the new president of the University, said PRC Coordinator Frank Stec.

“The new president said he is open to the Chief issue, and we think he could be a leader in getting rid of the Chief,” said Stec, a senior in communications and LAS.

Cook, who is not affiliated with the PRC, arrived at the event dressed in flowing white robes and a mock crown of thorns, with a sign reading: “What if it was your religion?”

“I was raised in this town and thought it was cool that there was an Indian out there on the field representing us,” Cook said. “But it’s a symbol. It’s a thing, and the band director decides where it goes … It doesn’t represent Indians.”

Nadeen Israel, co-coordinator of the event and senior in business, said the PRC wanted to show White and the Board of Trustees that it would not let up.

For Cook, it has been a long road with few victories.

“They say the original intent was to honor the Native Americans, but … the intent was to rile up fans in the crowd until the football team gets back onto the field,” he said.

Stec, who has worked with the PRC for four years, said he thinks some progress has been made.

For Cook, that is not enough. As the years have gone by, he has been a presence at rallies and outside football games, working to remove what he believes is a racist symbol.

“I don’t get so enraged anymore,” Cook said. “But a couple of weeks ago, I was watching the football game and near the end they showed this prancing clown dancing like he was on crack.

“The imagery is our problem,” he said. “The music isn’t Indian, so don’t call it Indian. The dance isn’t Indian, so don’t call it Indian.”