Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy over American Indian Mascots

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Sports fans love to don paint and feathers to cheer on the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Florida State Seminoles, and the Warriors and Chiefs of their hometown high schools. But outside the stadiums, American Indians aren't cheering--they're yelling racism.

School boards and colleges are bombarded with emotional demands from both sides, while professional teams find themselves in court defending the right to trademark their Indian names and logos. In the face of opposition by a national anti-mascot movement, why are fans so determined to retain the fictional chiefs who plant flaming spears and dance on the fifty-yard line?

To answer this question, Dancing at Halftime takes the reader on a journey through the American imagination where our thinking about American Indians has been, and is still being, shaped. Dancing at Halftime is the story of Carol Spindel's determination to understand why her adopted town is so passionately attached to Chief Illiniwek, the American Indian mascot of the University of Illinois. She rummages through our national attic, holding dusty souvenirs from world's fairs and wild west shows, Edward Curtis photographs, Boy Scout handbooks, and faded football programs up to the light. Outside stadiums, while American Indian Movement protestors burn effigies, she listens to both activists and the fans who resent their attacks. Inside hearing rooms and high schools, she poses questions to linguists, lawyers, and university alumni.

A work of both persuasion and compassion, Dancing at Halftime reminds us that in America, where Pontiac is a car and Tecumseh a summer camp, Indians are often our symbolic servants, functioning as mascots and metaphors that express our longings to become "native" Americans, and to feel at home in our own land.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Spindel displays considerable courage in tackling a controversial subject. A very personal account of the twentieth-century phenomenon of American Indians used as sports mascots, Dancing at Halftime also contains some fascinating history of early college football. The whole is strongly and beautifully written."

-Dee Brown,author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

"With clear and compelling language, Spindel shows us how the naive rituals of a previous era can become the insensitive orthodoxy of today. I can't imagine a more readable-or a more even-handed-exploration of the mascot issue. This should be required reading for anyone committed to building a new sense of community in the United States."

-Frederick E. Hoxie,Swanlund Professor, University of Illinois, and editor of The Encyclopedia of North American Indians

"Honest, insightful, and a well balanced analysis of this complicated problem. Spindel has discovered the confusing reservoir of tangled emotions that underlie American attitudes towards Indians-and toward themselves. A 'must read'."

-Vine Deloria, Jr.,Professor of History Emeritus, University of Colorado and a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member

"Yesterday's racism we recognize and we are embarrassed by it. Today's racism we often do not recognize until we read something like Carol Spindel's clear and fascinating message in Dancing at Halftime."

-Senator Paul Simon,

"I celebrate Dancing at Halftime, which brings Carol Spindel's wry and penetrating perception to this subject. As she well understands, it is a cipher through which one can read the deeper meanings not only of American history but of contemporary life today."

-Susan Griffin,author of A Chorus of Stones

"An intriguing, sometimes amusing, sometimes painful case study of the ongoing controversy over the University of Illinois' mascot (or is it "symbol"?), Chief Illiniwek. Spindel . . . says a lot about the history of Native Americans and of higher education. A capsule lesson about the complexities involved in constructing and deconstructing the past."
Dee Brown
Spindel displays considerable courage in tackling a controversial subject. A very personal account of the twentieth-century phenomenon of American Indians used as sports mascots, Dancing at Halftime also contains some fascinating history of early college football. The whole is strongly and beautifully written.
Frederick E. Hoxie
With clear and compelling language, Spindel shows us how the naive rituals of a previous era can become the insensitive orthodoxy of today. I can't imagine a more readable-or a more even-handed-exploration of the mascot issue. This should be required reading for anyone committed to building a new sense of community in the United States.
Vine Deloria
Honest, insightful, and a well balanced analysis of this complicated problem. Spindel has discovered the confusing reservoir of tangled emotions that underlie American attitudes towards Indians-and toward themselves. A 'must read'.
Paul Simon
Yesterday's racism we recognize and we are embarrassed by it. Today's racism we often do not recognize until we read something like Carol Spindel's clear and fascinating message in Dancing at Halftime.
Susan Griffin
I celebrate Dancing at Halftime, which brings Carol Spindel's wry and penetrating perception to this subject. As she well understands, it is a cipher through which one can read the deeper meanings not only of American history but of contemporary life today.
Sports Illustrated
An unusual and unfailingly interesting examination of a clash of cultures.
Chicago Tribune
Although a great deal has been written about the controversy of using fake Indians to get fans pumped up at football games, it took an entire book to give full vent to the subject. Carol Spindel does this admirably and evenhandedly.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"For starters, I simply wanted to understand why, at the university where I taught, a student dressed up as an Indian named Chief Illiniwek and danced at sports events." It wasn't long, however, before Spindel broadened her inquiry, tackling the history of the real Illiniwek tribe, the role of Indian mascots in American sporting events and the reasons why non-Indian-Americans are so attached to an image of Indians that exists only in mythology. An English professor at the University of Illinois, Spindel began by asking her students to write essays on the chief, only to find that they knew next to nothing about the history of the real Illiniweks. Deftly mixing descriptions of the chief's halftime performances with her own historical argument, Spindel shows how the university mascot derives from the turn-of-the-century Wild West Shows that brought such notable figures as Buffalo Bill around the country. She also observes how prevalent Indian figures remain in both college (Florida Seminoles) and professional sports (Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians). Avoiding academic jargon, Spindel writes convincingly about how her research has helped her to understand attitudes toward American Indians. While many fans of professional sports would benefit by reading this book--as a way to understand why many find it offensive to do tomahawk chops--the book's focus on only one university may limit its appeal. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The uproar over the use of Native American images as sports team mascots mystifies many in America's majority culture. How can Chief Illiniwek, the regal dancing warrior at the University of Illinois's football games, be perceived as insulting when the intent, his supporters claim, is to honor this country's Native American past? In this powerful, perceptive narrative, non-Native Spindel (creative writing, Univ. of Illinois) explores the source of such imagery and why the use of Natives as symbols so upsets Native Americans today. The reverence for the Indian of America's past, she asserts, says a lot about white America and its reluctance to deal with contemporary Native Americans. For their part, many Indians feel strongly that these glorified interpretations of their past negate their right to define themselves and have a severe impact on the self-images of their children. "Copycats," children somehow understand, "appropriate the power of the people they mimic." Readers of this very important, highly readable book will have a new understanding of the insidiousness of racism and the ease with which mass marketing can create new mythology. Highly recommended.--Mary B. Davis, Huntington Free Lib., Bronx, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Sports Illustrated
…an unusual and unfailingly interesting examination of a clash of cultures.--Sports Illustrated
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814781272
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 308
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol Spindel, author of In the Shadow of the Sacred Grove, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1989), teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Illinois, Urbana.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Controversy

At school board meetings, at universities, in professional sports, and on the editorial pages of widely read newspapers, objections are being raised to teams named the Warriors, Braves, Chiefs, Indians, and Redskins. Teams named after specific tribes such as the Apaches and Mohawks have also been criticized. Six teams—the Florida State Seminoles, the Fighting Illini at the University of Illinois, the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Redskins, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Cleveland Indians—have been targeted by an organization of Native American activists, the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and the Media. Of all minority groups, only American Indians, they point out, are still depicted in stereotypes and caricatures.

    In the 1970s, in response to student protests, the Dartmouth Indians became the Big Green, the Stanford Indians became the Cardinal (singular), Syracuse University retired its Saltine Warrior, also known as Big Chief Bill Orange, and Oklahoma State retired its "Little Red" mascot. Since then, dozens of universities have replaced mascots based on American Indians. The Miami University Redskins in Oxford, Ohio, are now the RedHawks, in response to a request from the Miami tribe of Oklahoma; the St. John's Redmen are the Red Storm; and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has retired Chief Moccanooga. Marquette University's sports teams, which had Indian themes, have become the Golden Eagles. Eastern Michigan students and fans are no longer the Hurons. Hundreds of high schools have changed their teamnames and symbols. And at least two minor league baseball teams have transformed themselves: the Chiefs of Syracuse became the Skychiefs and the Akron Indians are now the Akron Aeros. Of all these teams, only Syracuse University seems to have struggled to find a new identity. The Saltine Warrior, an Indian chief invented in a hoax in the student newspaper in 1931, was replaced with a parade of unpopular mascot wannabes. The school finally settled on Otto the Orange in the 1990s.

    Newspapers including the Oregonian of Portland, Oregon, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, the Akron Beacon Journal, the Seattle Times, and the Salt Lake Tribune have established an editorial policy of not printing Indian-inspired team names. They refer to the Braves, for example, as the Atlanta baseball team. Two radio stations in Washington, D.C., have followed their lead. The Los Angeles School District gave its three public high schools with Indian mascots one year to come up with replacements. The policy was upheld by a court decision. Dallas, Texas, also mandated a change. State boards of education, civil rights commissions, or state commissions of Indian affairs in Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin have asked schools in their states to rename their teams, retire their mascots, and redesign their logos. The New York State Education Board has undertaken a statewide review of the issue.

    The owners of professional teams—the Braves, Indians, Chiefs, Blackhawks, and Redskins—insist that their teams are private businesses and refuse to bow to pressure. In Cleveland at the first game of each baseball season, Native Americans protest outside the stadium. "We are people, not mascots," their signs say. Twice, demonstrators have been arrested. They were shown on national television burning an effigy of Chief Wahoo, whose bucktoothed grin and big nose can be seen on the Cleveland team's uniforms and on the licensed pennants, hats, and T-shirts sold to fans. The teams also face legal challenges. Legislation has been proposed in Cleveland, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C., to deny public funds for stadiums if minority groups will be disparaged within.

    Many American Indians refuse to pronounce the name of the Washington football team. To them it is the Native American "n-word." When the Washington Redskins played in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis in 1992, they were greeted by three thousand protesters, although the temperature was seventeen below. Later that year a legal proceeding was filed against them. Seven prominent Native Americans petitioned to have the team's trademarks canceled under a clause of the trademark law that says that disparaging or scandalous terms cannot receive federal trademark protection. They pointed out that the nation's capital city should not use a racial slur to name its team. Seven years after the petition was filed, three judges of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled for the petitioners and revoked the team's trademarks. The team has appealed the ruling.

    The oldest and largest American Indian organization, the National Congress of American Indians, which represents about 250 tribes, has passed a resolution condemning Indian mascots. So have many other tribes and intertribal organizations. In support, the NAACP has issued its own resolution. Senator Daniel Inouye, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, has asked that we not carry these names and stereotypes into the twenty-first century.

    However, longtime fans and alumni resent being asked to give up an identity they're attached to. Fans (a nickname derived from the word "fanatic") assert that naming teams after Indians is a positive way to honor them. They say they admire Indian leaders and Indian ways. Many see the anti-mascot movement as proof that political correctness has gone too far.

    Native Americans respond that the stereotypes endanger their children's self-esteem. Organizations of psychologists and educators agree. They point out the extremely high dropout and suicide rates among Indian youth. They also cite a 1999 Department of Justice study that found that Indians were more likely to be victims of a violent crime than any other racial group; in fact, the rate of crimes against Indians is two and a half times the national average; 60 percent of their attackers were white. Prejudice toward Indians has traditionally justified this violence and is still significant. Ideally, we would like other Americans to understand sovereignty, water rights, repatriation, and other complex issues that affect our community, prominent Indian leaders say. But as a first step, we would like them to acknowledge that we are human.

    But not all American Indians are bothered by the mascots. The chief of the Seminole tribe of Florida, James Billie, enjoys a positive relationship with Florida State University, where the tomahawk chop began. He supports the use of his tribe's name by the school's teams. A student dressed as Osceola, a Seminole war leader, who lived from 1804 to 1838, rides out on an Appaloosa horse named Renegade and opens every game for the `Noles by throwing a flaming lance. There are American Indians protesting outside every Florida State game, including some Seminole people. They say the mascot looks like a Lakota who got lost in an Apache dressing room riding a Nez Perce horse. But a spokesperson for the Seminole tribe of Florida maintains that the issue simply doesn't apply to his tribe. Florida State's Indian imagery, he responds, is nothing like Chief Noc-A-Homa, "the smiling dumb Cleveland Indian," or the Washington Redskins.

    The Atlanta Braves have finally retired Chief Noc-A-Homa, who sat in a smoking teepee in their stadium, running out when the Braves hit a home run to circle the tepee in a wild dance. They maintain that this sensitivity to how Native Americans are depicted entitles them to keep the name, tomahawk logo, and orchestrated "Indian" chanting. In Illinois, fans and alumni who support Chief Illiniwek feel that there is a difference between a demeaning caricature and a positive, although fictional, depiction. Like the Seminoles, they insist he is not a mere mascot, but an honored symbol. And while they concede that some stereotypes and team names demean Indians, Chief Illiniwek, they maintain, because he keeps a dignified distance from fans and follows a carefully choreographed script, honors the first inhabitants of the state.

    At Illinois, Florida State, and the University of North Dakota, where the controversy is over the Fighting Sioux nickname, Indian mascots are part of a larger mythology about collegiate sports. "Honor" is a word that comes up frequently in discussions on these campuses. Although college basketball and football programs are essentially entertainment corporations attached to educational institutions, they are rarely discussed in those terms. Amateur athletics is treated with a deference that is rare in American life. Activists call on these schools to retire mascots for the sake of doing the right thing and to live up to their mission statements, which guarantee equal treatment for all students.

    But professional teams like the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, and the Chicago Blackhawks have never promised to educate anyone. Their business is strictly entertainment and the goal of their management is to make a profit. Pro teams also promulgate myths about sports and about their special relationships to the cities in which they are located, myths that sports journalists often disseminate without question. This partly explains why sports mascots based on Indians have endured so long without a serious national debate about their appropriateness. Mascots don't live in the real world, but in the rarified imaginary space created by the overlapping bubbles of two of our most cherished American myths—sports and Indians. This double layer of mythology protects them; well-polished, transparent, it is completely invisible to most American eyes.

It's hard for outsiders to understand the obsession, but living in Champaign-Urbana means being pro-chief or anti-chief. The controversy that is breaking out in high schools all over the country and in Washington and Cleveland has been an accepted part of the cultural landscape in this midwestern college town for the past ten years. The current political movement to retire Indian mascots was started here by Charlene Teters in 1989.

    Making up new names for the team is a parlor game at faculty dinner parties. The Byting Illini? Urbana is the birthplace of Hal, the independent-minded computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, so why not mascot Hals running around the field? The Illini Lightning. The Corn Borers. The Tornadoes? (Urbana was struck by one in 1996.) When a community group, Women Against Racism, sponsored a contest to come up with a new name and mascot and offered a thousand dollars prize money, there were eighty entries. The winner was Prairie Fire, a name the group is urging the university to adopt. Using bumper stickers (We're FOR Chief Illiniwek) and T-shirts (Racist Stereotypes Dehumanize), semantics (he's a symbol—no, he's a mascot), artwork, a film, letters to the editor, talks by visiting Native activists, street theater, and demonstrations, the students, staff, faculty, and alumni have kept up a ten-year debate about the halftime star and sports logo.

    But the university administration and trustees have remained aloof from the debate. After voting to keep the Indian-theme performance in 1990, the board of trustees maintained for ten years that there was nothing further to discuss. They have received hundreds of letters on the subject (one trustee told me that mail runs forty to one for the chief). During trustees' meetings, there is a time period set aside for public comment, and opponents of the mascot often speak. Native Americans, both national activists and university students, have asked for roundtable discussions. But the trustees never respond to what is said in public comment sessions; they did not reply to the requests to sit down for talks; nor to a faculty vote recommending they retire the mascot. In January 2000, three national academic organizations, the American Association of Anthropologists, the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages, and the Linguistic Society of America, passed resolutions censuring the university and resolved not to return to Illinois for meetings until the mascot was retired. Still, the trustees had no comment. They seemed convinced that if ignored, the tempest would eventually blow over.

    In February 2000, when the university's academic accreditation came up for a ten-year review, the evaluation team was deluged with letters about the mascot and complaints about the trustees' handling of the issue. The accreditation organization, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, granted accreditation to the university for another ten years, citing its overall excellence. However, there were several conditions, all relating to the chief. A school's mascot is not usually an accreditation issue, but the evaluation team felt that, in this case, the symbol had educational consequences. In fact, eight pages of a 35-page report were devoted to the mascot question.

    Forced to finally take the issue seriously, the trustees called for an open, respectful dialogue on the symbol. They declared that every single interested person would have a chance to voice an opinion about the chief. "Too little, too late," responded student activists. "Been there, done that. Where were you?" The university has made it clear that the board itself remains pro-chief. The trustees refuse to concede that the mascot is an educational issue, a stance that leaves many faculty members fuming. "A sham," some labeled the dialogue. Although the university maintains that the chief is not an educational issue, he certainly pops up in a large number of classrooms. The student who graduates from Illinois without having written one paper on the chief or taken part in a classroom discussion must be an exception. In fact, the debate is such a staple topic for papers that the librarians in the university archives keep a well-thumbed folder of information handy for the students who come to do research. Extracurricular clubs face the issue, too—if only to decide whether to put the logo on their posters.

    The campus itself centers around the Quad, a rectangular lawn edged with the university's oldest buildings, a quadrangular heart for the collegiate body. The old brick buildings with columns look so Ivy League that a movie about Harvard was filmed there a few years ago. On Quad Day, held early in the fall semester, the sidewalks are lined with card tables and banners from organizations and social clubs. Some freshmen have already "rushed," hoping to be chosen to join one of the nation's oldest and largest systems of fraternities and sororities. Many are shopping among the campus ministries; upbeat Christian banners dominate the event. Still others are signing up to save wild rivers, usher at theatrical events, sing a capella, or joust with padded lances.

    A few card tables away from each other, the anti-chief students are passing out a "disorientation guide" and the "Save the Chief" students, in orange T-shirts, are handing out free Chief Illiniwek buttons and collecting signatures. Before they have figured out how to use the online catalog to find books, freshmen encounter the idea of a stereotype and ponder the semantic distinctions between a mascot and a symbol. As if a giant game of tug-of-war is about to start on the Quad, they are expected to choose sides.

    "Remove Chief Illiniwek. He is a racist image" printed on red ribbons in gold block letters is what the anti-chief students are offering along with their information. "It's racism pure and simple," they say. "When you single out one ethnic group and make them your mascot, that's a racist practice."

    "A mascot is what they have at Wisconsin," a student I'll call Jim explains to me. He has debated publicly to keep Chief Illiniwek and he writes for a conservative-funded newspaper where the anti-chief movement is described with phrases like "fringe group," "radical left," and "stinks of political correctness." Jim's voice is firm. Every word is clearly enunciated. "A mascot runs around in a costume and does sideline antics. What we have is nothing like that." Jim and I agree to meet again to talk and he offers to bring other pro-chief students.

    Tod, who joins us, is an Eagle Scout and a member of the Order of the Arrow, an auxiliary Scout group whose members study Indian tribes, dress in Indian clothing, and perform Indian dances. "We deal with Indian history and Indian personalities and Indian costuming in such a way that it's built into a larger picture of leadership, values, and tradition. It's something we hold very highly, research a lot, we try to communicate with tribes, try to authenticate this as much as possible. It's a brotherhood," he explains. Although he's young to have done so, he has already worked his way to the highest level of the Order of the Arrow.

    Tod is also active in College Republicans. Perhaps it's the wool cardigan or his formal way of phrasing his thoughts or his deep voice—for some reason he seems more like an older uncle than a college student.

    "For me," Tod continues, "Chief Illiniwek is a good way to remember what was once a great place for a proud people. It's a bygone era that very few white people ever saw. It internally destroyed itself through several different mechanisms."

    I question Tod about these very few white people. It is my impression that by the time the Illinois were relocated from the state in the 1830s, Indians and whites had lived in close contact for about 150 years.

    "But the culture was nothing like it had been," he replies.

    I ask him what it is about the Illinois Indians he admires.

    "To be brave, to have tenacity and will to endure whatever might lie ahead. Not to give in to outside pressure. Not to throw the towel in. They fought hard but ultimately, they were beaten."

    "He's certainly a worthy representation of who was here. He provides a little nexus between me and our Indian past." This is from the third student in the group, Matt. He looks more like the students I'm used to seeing. No straight-arrow Boy Scout shoulders here. He slouches, shrugs, fidgets, and speaks with a more tentative tone of voice.

    I ask them if it isn't possible that the students could come up with a new symbol, something equally exciting.

    "I'm not going to say they couldn't," Jim replies, "but I am not aware of any other campus in America that has anything like Chief Illiniwek. I don't think the students of the future will form as strong an attachment to a Bucky Badger-like mascot as they do to an honored symbol."

    Matt walked around among the tailgate parties before a football game with a petition to retain the Chief. He was amazed at the response. People came forward not by ones and twos, but twenty at a time, demanding to sign. One group drives up from Tennessee; members of the group insisted they would stay home if the chief was retired. "We would be disassociating thousands of people, we would be destroying a link between the past, the present, and the future. These people wouldn't know what their university stood for any more."

    "But what about Native American students who come to the University of Illinois and who feel demeaned by Chief Illiniwek?"

    "It's not just about honoring a particular group of people," Jim replies. "If a Native American student doesn't feel honored, I guess I think that's unfortunate. It is something that deeply concerns me and that I devote a great deal of thought to. How can we rectify the situation? But at the same time I'd point out that it's about more than just honoring a certain group of people. The Native American students at the university don't have any claim. There is no one today who can claim that they are the descendants of the Illini. They were wiped out in conflicts with other tribes. There are no direct descendants of the Illini remaining."

    Rather than debate this, I ask them if they think the character is a stereotype.

    "If you go to Oklahoma any month of the year," Tod says, "you can find a celebration where people are dressed like that and dance. It's not something that we made up. It's real."

    "Honestly," says Jim, swinging into his debate mode, "it almost insults the intelligence of your average Illini fan and university graduate to say that they look at the chief and think it's a perfectly accurate description of what every Native American looks and acts like. I never felt that way. I never met the person who said that."

    "There are stereotypes everywhere in our world. It's the way we deal with them that's important," Tod says.

    Jim adds, "If we were in an educational vacuum, we might have a problem."

    As I walk to the coffee shop near campus, I turn this conversation over. The threads are familiar ones, tangled together with our ideas about Indians in a mess of knots. I cast about for a loose end.

    Internally destroyed itself by several different mechanisms. Wiped out in conflicts with other tribes. No direct descendants remaining. In other words, although some Native Americans have survived and live in the same contemporary world we do and even come to the same campus to study, they are not Illini. They are not legitimate contenders for the identity that is so important to these students. And it was not whites who wiped out the Illini. That was done by other tribes—or the very vague "internal mechanisms." Perhaps this is a euphemism for epidemics of European-introduced diseases.

    When I suggest that early settlers and Illinois Indians knew each other well, I am told that "the culture was nothing like it had been." What is admirable is some pure and noble Indian culture, something that only the very first Europeans who set foot on the continent encountered with wonder. Ever since, Indian culture has become adulterated, diluted, and despoiled. White culture, European and American culture, is so decadent and dangerous that exposure to it turns these simple noble people into empty shells of humanity, addicted to alcohol, irresponsible, careless about their own future. Everything that is valuable about Indian culture belongs to the long long ago, before contact induced impurities and rot. This logic makes it possible for the student who is a Boy Scout to dedicate himself to learning traditional dances at the same time that he discounts the opinions of fellow students who are Native American.

    The student also tells me that the character of Chief Illiniwek, the brave and noble Plains Indian chief in feather headdress who dances wildly, is real because he can be found at a powwow in Oklahoma. It is certainly true that at a powwow, we could see Indian men who dress up in flashy costumes and dance, not only for spiritual reasons, but for entertainment or to win prizes. They seem to have stepped off a Broadway stage. The steps they perform have been combined and adapted from various tribes. In comparison, Chief Illiniwek looks like a warrior of yesteryear. But is old-fashioned clothing worn as a costume inherently more real than a contemporary costume? And even if we decide it is, does that make the dancer who wears it more authentic? What counts for the most points in the authenticity ratings? Is it the clothing, the steps, or the dancer's genes? And finally, assuming that the powwow dancers are authentic because they are Indian, is it true what the student is saying—that their existence makes Chief Illiniwek real? In this case, reality is hard to pin down. Perhaps we should settle for asking whether these other dancers render him appropriate.

    As we will see, Indians and whites both participated in Wild West shows; both contributed to the creation of "show Indians" who dress like Sioux and dance professionally. Show Indians live on in the movies. In areas where few American Indians live, there is a widespread belief that this show Indian culture is the only real Indian culture. Many non-Indians ignore or discount anything Indian that does not resemble the show Indians they recognize. In response, wanting to be acknowledged as Indians, many Indian people from other tribes have adopted aspects of Plains Indian dress so they can at least look the part. And at intertribal powwows, Plains music and dance dominate.

    The question of who is an Indian is a complicated one surrounded by a swirl of uncertainty and insecurity. It often undermines any discussion of imaginary Indians and Indian mascots. It would be helpful if we could settle it at the outset. But how? Is it a question of blood and genes? A certain percentage of Indian blood, the famous blood quantum that some tribes require to become an enrolled member? But what percentage is enough? Or are upbringing and knowledge of customs more significant? Some tribes are federally recognized. Others are not. Having been raised on a reservation is a trump card that settles most challenges. So is speaking an indigenous language. Looking Indian helps immensely. Being an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe is another trump. Without holding at least two of these cards, many Indians find it impossible to speak and be heard. Even Indians themselves are quick to discount any Indian with whom they disagree as "not real" or "raised away." And what if you have neither a large proportion of Indian blood nor a traditional upbringing, but want to identify yourself as Indian? For the moment we will simply have to set this riddle aside, keeping in mind that American Indian is an identity that was imposed on people who thought of themselves as Navajo or Oneida or Quapaw and that it is an identity that is often contested. We can be certain that people who define themselves as American Indian or Native American exist in the contemporary American world. Their numbers are increasing every year. American Indians intermarry at a higher rate than any other ethnic group, which means that people who call themselves Indians because of heredity will eventually be merged into the general mass of Americans. However, people who have only a small proportion of Indian blood are much more likely to identify themselves by it than those who are part Irish or Italian or Russian.

    Authenticity, I sense, is a thread that will, no matter how closely we examine it, always return to itself, a closed circle with no end. We can untangle the history of our own belief in the authentic and come to understand what we have called authentic and why. But even after we come to this understanding, we cannot sort Indian culture into two piles, the authentic and the inauthentic. No matter how attached we might be to the notion of the authentic, the circle of thread leads back only to ourselves and our desire for authenticity.

    Another stubborn knot is the curious one in which honor and contempt are tangled together. Is it possible to twist two opposing emotions into one gesture?

    The tables in the coffee shop are close together, and as I drink my cappuccino and ponder this, I study the students near me. There is one young couple I find particularly appealing. They are sitting side by side looking at photos in a small album. It is their physical beauty as they bend over the snapshots that attracts me. She has light brown hair and a lovely, open face. He is dark, Asian, and handsome, with a thoughtful expression. The way he leans toward her, one arm over the back of the chair, is graceful and unself-conscious. But as I listen, I realize it's not a tryst, it's a language lesson.

    She describes what she and her friends are doing in each photo and he poses questions. "That one? That's TP-ing," she says, exaggerating the unusual word.

    He looks completely blank. I'm curious, too.

    "TP stands for toilet paper. You know toilet paper, right?" She sounds so encouraging. "Well, you take rolls of toilet paper and you go at night to another house. Then you throw them up in the air so they catch in the branches of the trees. See? When the person comes out in the morning, the trees are all covered with toilet paper. It looks beautiful. But we had to clean it all up.

    "When? It's a good question." She speaks carefully and precisely. "You do it to someone when you like them and want to celebrate something they've done."

    He nods.

    "But ... you can also do it to someone because you think they're really ..." She pauses and looks at him apologetically, "... well, really stupid."

    Her student looks completely baffled.

    "It's weird but it can mean two completely opposite things."

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
Home Game 10
The Controversy 13
Myth and Mascot 28
Races of Living Things 38
Starved Rock 58
That Roughneck Indian Game 69
Sons of Modern Illini 80
Folded Leaves 96
The Wild West 108
Chills to the Spine, Tears to the Eyes 120
The Speakers Have It All Wrong 141
In Whose Honor? 157
Signaling 169
The Spoils of Victory 173
Coloring Books 176
What Do I Know about Indians? 178
The Wistful Reservoir 185
Dancing 189
Scandalous and Disparaging 199
The Tribe 211
A Young Child Speaking 224
A Racially Hostile Environment? 230
Homecoming 247
Video Letters 252
Acknowledgments 273
Bibliographic Essay 275
Selected Bibliography 279
About the Author 284
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