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Illinois Retires American Indian Mascot


The University of Illinois swept aside the last vestiges of Chief Illiniwek on Tuesday, voting to retire the mascot’s name, regalia and image.

The school will continue to call its sports teams the Fighting Illini under the resolution. Chancellor Richard Herman is to decide how and when Chief Illiniwek’s name and image will stop being used and licensed to apparel makers and others.

Activists and some American Indians have long complained the chief is demeaning. Backers defend him as an honorable tradition.

The school decided in February to end performances of the chief, leading the NCAA to lift sanctions that had barred Illinois from hosting postseason sports since 2005. The NCAA had deemed Illiniwek portrayed since 1926 by buckskin-clad students who danced at home football and basketball games and other sports events an offensive use of American Indian imagery.

Trustee David Dorris offered the only dissent Tuesday among the 10 voting members.

“When you look at Chief Illiniwek and you see hate, shamefulness and embarrassment, perhaps you should sit down and consider where those feelings come from,” he said before the vote.

Board chairman Lawrence Eppley voted for the resolution, but said he agreed with Dorris’ assessment that the chief had been a proud tradition for many years.

“Certainly my vote is not intended to dishonor anybody’s memories, or to deny the fact that it’s been a great tradition,” Eppley said.

The board Tuesday also took the unusual step of ratifying the February decision. The earlier decision came without a vote from the board, which Eppley has said wasn’t needed. Nonetheless, board spokesman Thomas Hardy said voting now could blunt any legal action claiming there should have been a vote.

A state lawmaker asked the Attorney General’s office whether making the decision without a vote was legal.

Board members also voted down Dorris’ resolution that would have directed the university to join a lawsuit filed by the last two students to portray the chief. The suit asks a judge to determine whether the NCAA could sanction Illinois over the mascot.

Board member Robert Sperling told Dorris his resolution would only postpone the inevitable.

“The time has come,” he said. “(The chief) bothered a whole lot of people for a long time.”

Graduate student Genevieve Tenoso, a Lakota Sioux, told the board before the vote that by not doing away with the chief sooner, they helped create an atmosphere in which she sometimes didn’t feel safe.

“I haven’t had one single day on this campus when something didn’t remind me of the Indian you prefer me to be rather than the living, breathing native person that I am,” she said.

–Associated Press

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