Friday, June 22, 2007

Borders promoting a "Chief Illiniwek" book

Today's post is a call to action. As regular readers know, I'm home (Nambe Pueblo) with family for awhile. My internet access is infrequent.

In email today, I learned that Borders bookstore in Oak Brooke, Illinois, is hosting a book-signing tomorrow, June 23rd. The book is a commemorative volume, all about the University of Illinois's mascot, "Chief Illiniwek." The "signer" will be the student who is currently serving as "Chief Illiniwek." After over 20 years, UIUC finally retired "Chief Illiniwek" this past spring. During those 20 years, Native people who spoke up asking that it be retired placed themselves and their families at risk.

It is not my wish to tell Borders how to run their business. They can sell whatever they choose. No doubt they feel that selling this particular book will bring them a lot of business. They sell many children's books about American Indians that I find problematic, but I don't ask they stop selling those books either.

For background on the "Chief Illiniwek" issue, please visit click on "Mascot Info" at the webpage of the Native American House at UIUC:

What I do wish is that they NOT actively promote the book by having a book-signing.

I can, and will, take my business elsewhere, and encourage others to do so as well. A few moments ago, I wrote to Borders Customer Care asking them to cancel the book signing. I got a standard auto-reply about how they cater to their customers, try to provide all viewpoints, etc.

That's not acceptable. Native people across the Americas have been asking that schools, businesses, and marketing campaigns cease using Native imagery that is 1) stereotypical, 2) biased, and 3) presents us as a vanished people.

Unfortunately, we are small in number, and that imagery generates huge revenues. It is not realistic to expect that any business is willing to do what is right in the face of their revenues. But we can express ourselves, make our viewpoint known.

I urge you, whether you are Native or not, to write to Borders and ask them to cancel the event. It is very late in the game (the signing is tomorrow), but letting them know how you feel may impact future decisions. And, it may cause them to issue a public statement that can be helpful to us in the long run.

What can they do instead? Have a book-signing of Cynthia Leitich Smith, whose book INDIAN SHOES is set in Chicago.

Their address is:


1 comment:

Jasmine Alfonso said...

I really enjoyed that book Indian Shoes. The children in our summer program just finished reading it.