Smile Politely

Good riddance, War Chant

The University of Illinois’ “war chant”, played at basketball and football games by the U of I Marching Band, has been taken out of rotation by the U of I administration.


The war chant was a juvenile ape-ing of a Native American war song. It was a stereotype invented by ignorant white people and needed to be cast aside like the sambo Chief Illiniwek. The U of I is trying to grow up, and it’s commendable they’ve insisted the university won’t be a part of any more minstrel shows.

Of course, much of the local electorate disagree and find that the elimination of the war chant is just another case of political correctness run amok, trampling the rights of the well intentioned majority. We have to acknowledge that there is still a sizeable contingent of Chief Faithful who proudly parade their Chief Illiniwek apparel in open defiance of the “Nanny State”. These Chief zealots refuse to let go and move on. 

It’s uncomfortable for white people to acknowledge that our mascoting of Native Americans for our sports teams was a painful blow to those who are actually Native Americans. U of I Professor Jay Rosenstein’s 1998 documentary classic, In Whose Honor? forever explained how Chief Illiniwek was a hostile, hurtful parody to an entire race of people. The film helped convince thousands of white people why Chief Illiniwek had to go. The film should be required viewing for all incoming Freshman at the U of I.

That education is still forthcoming, and slow to arrive for many. So of course we have substantial push-back when remnants of the Chief Illiniwek tradition are removed. The disgruntled threaten to boycott games and stop financially supporting the U of I if their precious Indian music is taken away.

Despite this loud displeasure, the university is to be applauded for the small improvement that is the banning of the war chant. History is on the side of those who seek not to degrade others for amusement.

There are times when protecting the minority from abuse; as during the days of ending child labor, instituting an 8-hour workday, protecting the Jews from the Nazis, ending Jim Crow laws and school segregation, the passage of the American Disabilities Act, preserving quality education for deaf and blind students as well as low income students, and a host of other good laws and good practices that Americans have taken upon themselves to right past wrongs; is sometimes necessary. The subjugation and humiliation of a race of people is tyranny in itself and should be defeated. While not doing much to really help Native Americans, it is at least common courtesy to quit making a mockery of them.

Sure, there are much bigger, more important matters the U of I could be tackling: minority student and faculty recruitment, a welcoming atmosphere for minorities, and ending mass incarceration and reliance on fossil fuels are just some of the big picture initiatives the U of I could be working on. Ending the war chant at sporting events may seem trivial in light of more pressing issues. Nonetheless, ridding ourselves of the outdated “Indian” buffoonery is a step in the right direction. Slowly but surely, we are evolving into a more compassionate people.

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