In Whose Honor?
Vine Deloria Jr. Professor of Native American History, University of Colorado
Tracy Ore Professor of Sociology, St. Cloud State University
The Tampa Tribune
Alison Dundes Renteln Professor of Political Science, University of Southern California
3 1/2 stars out of 4
The last few decades have seen a growing number of excellent video explorations of the ways in which radical, ethnic, and gender bias have historically been reflected in culture and media. So, it's consequently rather odd that, with the exception of Phil Lucas and Robert Hagopian's now somewhat dated "Image of Indians" series, there have been few videos which have addressed the stereotypic image of Native Americans in pop culture. Although In Whose Honor? fills a relatively small part of this gap, it is still a fascinating and useful addition to the discussion. Filmmaker Jay Rosenstein looks at the long-standing tradition of using Indian logos, nicknames, and mascots in college and professional sports, and at the impact of this practice on the Native American community. In particular, Rosenstein focuses his sights on the University of Illinois and its obsessively revered football team mascot, Chief Illiniwek (fictitious head of the Illini tribe). The filmmaker follows the story of Charlene Teters, an unassuming Native American UI grad student and mother, who gradually becomes a leader in the struggle to ban such imagery from sports nationwide. The power in this film rests largely in the ironic juxtaposition of Teters' words - her intense humiliation and anger at the misrepresentation and trivialization of sacred Native American traditions - with those of the insensitive UI trustees and sports fans who oppose her fight. Although the video discusses the notable gains made by Teters and her supporters in their struggle, it also reveals that there are many more battles yet to be won in the war against racism and intolerance, both on and off the playing field. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.
Society of Visual Anthropology
This powerful film explores popular icons and mascots which overtly and covertly demean American Indians through images that the sports-loving public often passionately defends. The jury was particularly impressed with links drawn between public images and their consequences in the lives of Native Americans. Special focus was given to the story of Charlene Teters who was transformed into an activist when she saw how her children were humiliated by the University of Illinois grotesque Indian mascot. We also appreciated the care with which the images' defenders were given time in the film. Their ardent denials and sincerity provide a clear portrait of how ideology blinds its subjects.
Rosenstein's poignant, hour-long documentary makes clear the lunacy of SPORTS teams' appropriating Native American names and symbols. In takingup the battle against nicknames like Braves and Chiefs, Rosenstein uses footage of mascots and white fans inanely dancing around dressed as Indians. He also exposes the arguments of people like Rich Winkel, an Illinois state representative who in 1995 sponsored a bill that would keep Chief Illiniwek as the University of Illinois's mascot. "We have a rich heritage in this country, especially over the past few decades, of protecting minority rights," Winkel says. "But minority rights aren't always right." Not all defenders of the Fighting Illini are so diplomatic. "This school," says a tailgater, "shouldn't cave in to out-of-state foreigners." The star of the film is Charlene Teters, a Spokane Indian who in 1989, while a student at Illinois, had the misfortune of taking her two children to an Illini basketball game. At halftime she first witnessed Illiniwek, a man costumed in a gaudy feather headdress, leather skins and a year's supply of facial paint. His dance--sort of M.C. Hammer meets Richard Simmons meets Biff the town idiot--was supposed to recall an Indian ritual. It failed miserably. "My kids just sank in their seats," Teters says in a tearful interview. "I saw my daughter trying to become invisible. "The rest of the documentary zooms in on Teters's stirring rise from neophyte protester to,as an ally puts it, "the Rosa Parks of Native Americans."e; That may be hyperbole, but there is powerful footage of Teters facing fellow Illinois students as they chant, "Pick another school!" Rosenstein, who began the project while studying at Illinois, deftly mixes such charged moments with evocative black-and-white photographs of Native Americans. Since 1989, due in part to Teters's persistence, at least six colleges have changed their nicknames, and now even nonbelievers are hard-pressed to rebut Teters's point--though they try. "We don't do any kind of mascot antics," says Jeff Beckham, who wore the Illiniwek get-up in '94. "We keep everything very honorable and dignified."
Rick Kaplan Former President, CNN