LINGUIST List 11.775

Wed Apr 5 2000

Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Andrew J. Koontz-Garboden, Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  2. Sally Thomason, Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Message 1: Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Wed, 05 Apr 2000 03:21:14 -0500
From: Andrew J. Koontz-Garboden <>
Subject: Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

> Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2000 14:21:50 -0400
> From: Trace Mansfield <>
> Subject: Re: 11.766, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
; however, if there *is* a
> motivated process behind these decisions, then it might be more fair to let
> the whole (dues-paying, quasi-voting) membership in on that process, even if
> it is only to the degree that they get to choose the members of the
> committee whose personal biases they will all be associated with for the
> following year.

This is _exactly_ how it works. There is *no* "moral authority"
committee. The questions of boycotting Illinois and the UIUC campus are
currently up for vote among the _entire_ LSA membership. Before you
work yourself into a rage, you might do yourself some good to get a bit
more informed on how the LSA works.



Andrew J. Koontz-Garboden
Department of Linguistics and
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Indiana University
Ballantine Hall 848
Bloomington, IN 47405
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Message 2: Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Wed, 05 Apr 2000 07:37:00 -0400
From: Sally Thomason <>
Subject: Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

 Since the question has been raised, and since some LINGUIST
readers aren't LSA members and therefore won't have received
the LSA Bulletin in which the issue is explained, it might be
useful to have a bit of background for the discussion about the
resolution and motions that I proposed at the LSA Business
Meeting in January for the consideration by the LSA membership.

 Any LSA member has the right to propose actions for the
Society to take. Usually this happens in the "other business"
section of the annual LSA Business Meeting. That's what happened
this time too. I proposed these actions as an individual member,
but the proposal was a follow-up to an action taken at
the summer Business Meeting of SSILA (Society for the Study of
Indigenous Languages of the Americas), held in July 1999 at the
University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, where "Chief Illiniwek"
is the official `symbol' of the university's athletic teams. He
is supposed to represent an Illinois Native American; but his name
is bogus, he wears a Plains Indian chief's regalia -- a religious
symbol to which he of course has no right, as he is portrayed by
a UI student or other anglo young man -- and he dances in a wildly
inappropriate way at football and basketball games (for instance).
At our summer meeting, the SSILA members present voted unanimously
to censure UI for maintaining this racist mascot in spite of ten
years of protest by Native American students and in spite of votes
by (for instance) over 700 UI faculty members. This action received
a good deal of publicity, and the attention of the UI administration;
we were told by local activists that it was the first time a national
scholarly organization had spoken out against the "Chief". SSILA
voted not to return to UI as long as they maintain the mascot.

 Motions were then presented at both the LSA and the AAA annual
meetings, similar in content to the SSILA resolution. The idea, of
course, is to increase the pressure on the UI administration to dump
the "Chief".

 So that's the background. The main point I'd like to make here is
that this is not a random political action, and it's certainly not meant
to penalize UI linguists -- most of whom are anti-"Chief", and many
or most of whom supported SSILA's action last summer. In fact, the 
statement *against* the resolution & motions that the LSA is now voting 
on was co-written by a UI linguist and recommends passage of the 
boycott-UI motion and against passage only of the boycott-the-whole-state 

 Here's part of the text of the supporting statement published in 
the March 2000 LSA Bulletin with the ballot, to show non-LSA readers
what the issue is:

 "There are two reasons for supporting [the resolution and motions],
a broad one and a more narrowly professional one. First, the "Chief",
whose depiction is historically and culturally inaccurate as well as
anachronistic, has a negative impact on our efforts as educators to
make the public aware of the history and present situation of Native

 "The second that "Chief Illiniwek", like other Native
American stereotypes, harms Native American members of the LSA and 
also non-Native LSA members whose professional life is devoted to work
with Native American and other minority communities: anything that
increases the level of hostility felt by Native Americans toward
insensitive Anglos makes it more difficult for linguists to carry out
research and contribute to language preservation efforts in Native
American communities. The "Chief" has a demonstrable negative effect
on the quality of education that students at the University of Illinois
receive. Non-Native LSA members who are affiliated with the university
are also potential sufferers from the "Chief", given the strong negative
reaction to the "Chief" by Native American students at the university.
One university faculty member told of arriving on a reservation to
continue her fieldwork and being asked why she was teaching at a
racist institution; at the Linguistic Institute last summer, the only
Native American faculty member said she would never have come to
Illinois if she had known in advance about the "Chief", and one
student left the Institute immediately upon hearing about the "Chief".

 "...As Joseph P. Gone, a Native American student at the University,
noted several years ago, "Chief" supporters `routinely overlook our
objections'. An example: in July 1999, at a press conference about
SSILA's anti-"Chief" protest, the local television interviewer refused
to permit a Native American linguist to speak, switching off his
microphone when it was her turn to comment. The university has also
routinely ignored the anti-"Chief" protests of its Native American
students and more than 700 of its own faculty members. Outside
organizations such as the LSA have a better chance of being heard.

 ",,,The university took SSILA's protest seriously enough to 
arrange a meeting with the Provost in July. The university's Board
of Trustees took the vote at January's LSA meeting [the vote to submit
the resolution & motions to the LSA membership, that is] seriously
enough to pass a resolution on 13 January to the effect that they 
welcome open discussion of this issue....A vote to censure the
university and not to hold future meetings either at the university
or, because the university is the flagship campus of the State of
Illinois university system, in the entire State of Illinois, will send
a clear message to the university administration and to the Illinois
State Legislature, which recently voted overwhelmingly to establish
the "Chief" as a permanent symbol at the University."

 -- Sally Thomason
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