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U Of I Chancellor Releases Plan For Campus Life After Chief Illiniwek

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A University of Illinois student portrays Chief Illiniwek during halftime at a November 11 2006 football game. The Board of Trustees retired the Chief three months later.

A plan for addressing issues related to the University of Illinois’ use of Chief Illiniwek as a mascot includes formation of a student council to look at the development of new traditions for the Urbana campus.

Chancellor Robert Jones released the implementation plan on Friday. The plan draws from input from a series of community-wide discussions held by the chancellor in 2018.

The Illinois Spirit and Traditions Council is to be co-led by the campus office of Student Affairs, the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics and the Illinois Alumni Association. Working with members of the student body, the Council will be asked to “evaluate current traditions and develop new ones”, according to the implementation plan. Those traditions could include a mascot, new music or symbols. But the implementation plan says the council should “not rely upon Native American images or traditions.”

By the time it was retired by the university’s Board of Trustees in 2007, Chief Illiniwek had become a flashpoint for controversy. Supporters hailed it as a positive symbol of the university, while opponents decried it as a degrading stereotype of Native Americans. Strong feelings about Chief Illiniwek remain to this day. 

Chancellor Jones’ implementation plan calls for remembering Chief Illiniwek with a detailed history “of the campus’ use of Native American symbols and imagery”, to be drawn up by a campus historian.

At the same time, the campus would reach out to Native American tribes and nations that once resided in Illinois, particularly the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. The Peoria are descendants of the Illinois Confederation, also called Illini, and Chief Illiniwek was presented as a representation of positive attributes of those particular tribes.

The chancellor’s plan also calls for returning Native American artifacts held by the university to tribal communities and descendants, offering in-state tuition rates to members of all federally recognized tribes, exploring permanent structures on the Urbana campus to represent Native Americans and beefing up the campus’ American Indian Studies Program.

Chancellor Jones’ office says it will provide updates on the implementation plan on its website.

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Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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