The University of Illinois put Chief Illiniwek on the shelf last year and the school says it’s now retiring another piece of American Indian imagery.
Saturday was to be the last time Illinois and Northwestern play football for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk, Illinois athletic department spokesman Kent Brown said Friday.
The framed tomahawk has been a part of the instate rivalry since 1947. Its run was to end as part of the 2005 NCAA directive to stop using American Indian imagery, Brown said.
“We for several months have been working toward this,” he said, explaining that university trustees told Chancellor Richard Herman that, like the chief mascot, the tomahawk had to go. “This was part of that edict on campus.”
The schools agreed to stop playing for the tomahawk “out of tremendous respect for the Native American community,” Northwestern Athletic Director Jim Phillips said in an e-mailed statement.
Both Brown and Phillips said the two schools will work next year on a new trophy for the rivalry game. It’s been played every year since 1927, and the teams first met in 1892.
The NCAA in 2005 told Illinois to stop using American Indian imagery, which it called demeaning and offensive, and barred the school’s sports teams from hosting postseason games.
Illinois last year decided to stop using Chief Illiniwek — a buckskin-wearing student who had danced at sports events since 1926. The school said nothing at the time about other potentially problematic imagery.
The school knows of no other such traditions, Brown said Friday.
The decision to retire Chief Illiniwek angered supporters of the mascot, who say it honors American Indians. The chief is still a frequent topic of letters to newspaper editors in downstate Illinois, and last weekend a student group rented the Assembly Hall on campus for a performance by an unofficial chief.
The leader of that group, student Roberto Martell of Aurora, Ill., wasn’t aware of the tomahawk decision until contacted by a reporter on Friday and declined comment until he knew more about it.
The Sweet Sioux, according to the University of Illinois, was originally a wooden statue of an American Indian that the schools started playing for in 1945. It was stolen from a showcase at Northwestern the next year — details, according to Illinois, are sketchy at best — and replaced by the tomahawk.
Illinois, like many Big Ten schools, exchanges trophies with other teams. The Illini and Ohio State play for Illibuck, a wooden turtle, and Illinois and Purdue play for a cannon.
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