CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A group of University of Illinois graduates who in the past portrayed Chief Illiniwek is pitching a plan to bring back the former mascot. But the top official at the school says she won’t back the idea, and the leader of the tribe that would need to agree says that means he can’t support it, either.
The group, known as the Council of Chiefs, has asked the university to let the mascot return to two campus events a year for two trial years and is trying to get support from American Indians for the idea, according to Steve Raquel. He’s a past chief and president of the group.
“We’ve been working to come up with something that made sense, something that we felt was a win-win for the university, for alumni and for students,” Raquel told The News-Gazette in Champaign.
Phyllis Wise, chancellor at the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus, met with the group in April and told them she can’t support the plan.
“I’m seeking to find ways that we can memorialize and respect the (university’s) past history and culture that included the Chief while we focus on the future. And bringing back the Chief is not in the future,” she said.
Without the school’s support, the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma can’t agree to the plan, either, Chief John Froman said Tuesday.
He said he told the Council of Chiefs “this is purely a University of Illinois decision, that if the university was supportive, the tribe would be willing to have some discussions.”
The university stopped using the mascot in 2007 under pressure from the NCAA. Some American Indians consider the mascot and the dances it performed at sports events offensive.
But some schools use American Indian mascots with the approval of relevant tribes. Florida State University, for instance, has an agreement with the Seminole tribe to call its teams the Seminoles.
The Council of Chiefs had discussed options with the Peoria tribe, whose members are descendants of American Indians who once lived in Illinois.
Wise said she’s met this year with Peoria tribe leaders to talk about ways to work together on scholarship, including getting more American Indian students to the university, but not about bringing back Chief Illiniwek.
“What I would like to do is … work together on a regular basis instead of a sporadic basis,” she said.