Home » Documentary of In Whose Honor
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“In Whose Honor” summary
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Symbols are powerful images, names, or words that reflect the values and beliefs of a culture. In the world of sports, mascots and team names are those symbols that serve to represent not only the team but the society that has been built around it including fans, coaches, administrators, and various institutions. While symbols can be a source of unification, it can also alienate and disrespect groups not within the “in crowd” as discussed by Eitzen (2015) in Fair and Foul. The film “In Whose Honor” specifically investigates the American tradition of dehumanizing Native Americans and using their traditions, names, and culture as simply entertainment. It takes a look at the journey that activist Charlene Teters has taken from being motivated to take action against the University of Illinois’s fictitious mascot of Chief Illiniwek to the progress she and other Native American organizations have made.
Within each culture, there are traditions and symbols that are sacred and are a pivotal part of one’s identity. However, when those significant pieces are mocked, it can be extremely damaging to the self-esteem of those belonging to the group being bullied. Teters credits the reactions of her children at a University of Illinois basketball game as the main motivator for her activism. She talks about growing up in a traditional Native American community in Spokane, Washington where she learned the significance of specific dances and what it meant to be able to wear eagle feathers, something of which she passed down to her own children. Teters mentions that watching her children want to simply disappear or attempt to laugh off the fact that their culture has been turned into silly entertainment transformed her sadness into anger which in the end inspired her. Eitzen reinforces this feeling when he says, “Using dances, chants, drumming, and other rituals at sporting events clearly trivializes their meaning.” (Eitzen, 2015, pg. 53) Additionally, Teters discusses an incident where the U of I was playing a team and the other team hung versions of “the Chief,” which is exactly the type of haunting imagery that contributes to the low self-esteem of Native American youths specifically.
Despite the various protests, there are still many people who will continue to defend the use of Native American imagery as mascots. Throughout the film, the makers interviewed alumni, administration, and students of the University of Illinois to get their point of view regarding the controversy. The overwhelming majority of the people that they filmmakers spoke to were alumni who did not understand why what they were doing was wrong and see “the Chief” as just another part of the University of Illinois tradition. In fact, one of the alumni says that this is “an attempt at, by the people of Illinois, to remember the Illini tribe.” This mentality is echoed by Eitzen (2015) where he states that a lot of the defenders of this type of imagery often cite it as a way of honoring the tribes and attributing these supposedly positive characteristics to them, when in fact it does quite the opposite. In the film, there was a very powerful quote that said, “Team mascots are a mask for racism” which is basically the very essence of the film. Eventually both the film and Eitzen (2015) reference the fact that after enormous media pressure and pressure from organizations such as the NCAA, various schools finally conceded to change their names and even Chief Illiniwek has been retired. However, while there has been a lot of progress, work still needs to be done to ensure the elimination of all such language and imagery throughout the world of sports that clearly mocks the culture of minorities such as the Washington Redskins, Chicago Blackhawks, and countless other schools.
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