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Sioux ask university to return Chief Illiniwek regalia

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.

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The eagle feathers since have been replaced by turkey feathers.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.