Sioux ask university to return Chief Illiniwek regalia

Updated: January 19, 2007, 12:11 PM ET
Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Oglala Sioux Tribe demanded Thursday that University of Illinois officials return the regalia worn by the school's Chief Illiniwek mascot, including the eagle feathers that were once part of the costume.

Chief Illiniwek
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesUniversity of Illinois officials are trying to track down the original, considered sacred, eagle feathers that adorned the Chief Illiniwek mascot's costume.

Whether the school still has those feathers -- considered sacred to American Indians -- wasn't clear Thursday.

The resolution was submitted to the university's board of trustees ahead of its Thursday meeting in Chicago. It called the use of Chief Illiniwek "a degrading racial stereotype."

Telephone messages seeking comment from the tribe's executive committee, which approved the resolution, were left Thursday at tribal offices on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where the tribe is based.

Tom Hardy, a spokesman for the board of trustees, said the board wouldn't yet respond to the resolution.

"We're going to have to review the resolution and its contents and take it from there," he said Thursday from the meeting.

The university bought the costume, including a headdress with eagle feathers, in 1982 from Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow, whose wife made it.

The eagle feathers since have been replaced by turkey feathers.

According to the resolution, Fools Crow was long disappointed in the way the regalia was used to portray Chief Illiniwek. The document says that Mel Lone Hill, a descendant of Fools Crow, wants the regalia and feathers returned to his family. Messages left for Lone Hill at tribal offices were not immediately returned.

University officials weren't sure Thursday night whether the school still has the eagle feathers, Associate chancellor Robin Kaler said. School officials have called and e-mailed a former band director and former mascots to see if they recall what became of the feathers, she said.

John McKinn, assistant director of the Native American House on the Champaign-Urbana campus, said trustees should return the regalia and stop using the mascot.

"I would like to think that this resolution gives the institution a chance to do what is honorable," said McKinn, a Maricopa Indian.

The president of a group that believes the university should continue using the mascot said the Illini had no obligation to return the costume.

"This was not a gift from the Sioux to the University of Illinois, it was a purchase," said Howard Wakeland, president of the Honor the Chief Society. He recalled the price as $3,500.

The chief mascot has been a source of turmoil for years.

Many American Indians complain it demeans them, while supporters argue that it honors American Indian contributions to Illinois.

Earlier this month the university and campus police began investigating threats made late last year on a pro-mascot Web site toward an American Indian student.

In 2005, the NCAA decided that Illiniwek and his dance are "hostile and abusive" toward American Indians, and barred Illinois from hosting postseason events.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press