Opponents call use of Chief Illiniwek 'outrageous'
CHICAGO -- Opponents of University of Illinois mascot Chief Illiniwek sued the school's trustees Tuesday, claiming the buckskin-clad figure perpetuates a racial stereotype.
In its lawsuit, the Illinois Native American Bar Association and two individuals seek to force the school to stop using the Chief as its sports mascot.
"The use of this mascot is outrageous. It's been going on way too long and it should come to an end," said Kim Edward Cook, association president.
The Chief is a 78-year-old tradition in which a student dresses in buckskins and headdress and dances at sports events. The suit alleges the mascot violates Indians' rights under state law and violates the board's own policies against discrimination.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the university said it is not violating any discrimination laws or its own anti-discrimination policies.
"University counsel will thoroughly review the plaintiffs' suit and respond appropriately," the statement said. "Meantime, the Board of Trustees continues to move forward with its process aimed at reaching a consensus conclusion to the Chief Illiniwek issue."
The Chief has been a divisive issue at the school for years. Supporters say the mascot is a symbol of reverence for the contribution of American Indians to Illinois history while opponents say it is racially offensive and demeaning.
Stephen Naranjo, a University of Illinois at Chicago student, is among the plaintiffs.
"[Naranjo] feels embarrassed about his heritage being reduced to a halftime sporting event entertainment," the suit said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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