Stout HONOR still among thieves

Making mention in our last post of our friend and former Urbana indie short filmmaker John May, we remind ourselves of a pre-Millennium era sans C-U Blogfidential and MICRO-FILM when locally-based movie projects of significance appeared relatively far apart. Very few efforts in the unofficial Champaign-Urbana canon from then or now have sustained as much notoriety as IN WHOSE HONOR?, the Jay Rosenstein documentary from 1997 about Spokane Indian activist Charlene Teters and her (somewhat fulfilled) quest to see the University of Illinois sports mascot “Chief Illiniwek” removed from the fields of play and related merchandising. It still has resonance today as when it aired on the PBS showcase program P.O.V. nearly 20 years ago, but for reasons the open minded would call frustrating.

Among many qualities etched into United States sports culture is a bullheaded resistance to proactive change, washing over its organizers, athletes, and fan base with narrow attitudes and suspect agenda. This includes the retirement of team identities that arguably trade on real-life or embellished Native American history for the sake of superficial “entertainment value.” Emblems falling in this niche, along with trademarks referencing other non-white ethnicities, have been very slow in disappearing from grade school, high school, and club teams. At the same time, various colleges and big-ticket franchises such as the Washington NFL organization have not responded kindly to mounting criticism that such iconography might register as outdated, vulgar, or racist to the surviving Indian tribes and their allies.

In Whose Honor? – open from Jay Rosenstein on Vimeo.

Ergo, why the documentary still has legs as this issue is far from settled. Veteran television news host Bill Moyers featured IN WHOSE HONOR? on his Web site back in February, timed with the occurrence of Super Bowl XLIX even though Washington did not play. Smile Politely reported around the same time that Rosenstein had posted it separately to Vimeo. Both embeds have since gone private, keeping latecomers from viewing the fresh postscript added for its Moyers & Company window. In lieu of the complete piece, we share its opening sequence that sets up the primary quandary of “Illiniwek” and his ilk, while a capable substitute for the postscript is this lengthy SP interview with the filmmaker, conducted by local artist Melissa Mitchell and first published when the streaming videos went live.

We still have many things to learn in our society about empathetic coexistence. Even if colonial white America had not overpowered and mistreated Native American tribes like it did, who knows how else commercial white America might have appropriated their image, spirituality, or lifestyle in the ensuing centuries. Let’s do our best to give this land’s original founding fathers and mothers their respectful due to help improve their future alongside the rest of us.

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. If you missed watching IN WHOSE HONOR? in full, a public screening will probably be right around the corner as this cultural discussion continues. Rosenstein will keep you aware of opportunities here.

p.s.2 Mere days after running the Mitchell article, Smile Politely posted a separate feature about the subject of another Rosenstein production, the Amasong Chorus.

p.s.3 Last Friday, the Indian Country Today Media Network recommended these ten documentaries on Native American legacy, struggles, and triumphs. We thank Confidential agent Brian Paris for the tip!

p.s.4 Yesterday, the UI students at the Daily Illini offered this editorial in which they talk about popular events outside the sports arena, such as the summertime rock festival, where cultural misappropriation thrives as ill-begotten “fashion sense” that could easily be put to rest by more mindful attendees.

p.s.5 C-SPAN television has been airing an address by Kevin Gover, the director of the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and New York City, recorded during a conference in Phoenix, Arizona. In his talk, the articulate and congenial Gover frames the mascot issue within the larger, centuries-long discrepancy regarding how North American settlers and their descendants have dealt with the Native American population. Hint: It never has been pretty, even though Pawnee Nation citizen Gover holds out hope.

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