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University of Illinois Board Retires Chief Illiniwek

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Feb. 21, 2007: University of Illinois mascot Chief Illiniwek performs for the last time in Champaign, Ill.AP

The University of Illinois swept aside the last vestiges of Chief Illiniwek Tuesday, voting to retire the mascot's name, regalia and image.

The resolution lets Chancellor Richard Herman decide how and when the Chief Illiniwek name and image would stop being used and licensed to apparel makers and others.

The school would continue to call its sports teams the Fighting Illini under the resolution.

Activists and some American Indians have long complained that the chief is offensive and demeaning, while backers defend him as an honorable tradition.

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The school decided in February to end the performances of the chief, leading the NCAA to lift sanctions that had barred Illinois from hosting postseason sports since 2005. The NCAA had deemed Illiniwek — portrayed since 1926 by buckskin-clad students who danced at home football and basketball games and other athletic events — an offensive use of American Indian imagery.

Trustee David Dorris offered the only dissent Tuesday among the 10 voting members.

"When you look at Chief Illiniwek and you see hate, shamefulness and embarrassment, perhaps you should sit down and consider where those feelings come from," he said before the vote.

Board chairman Lawrence Eppley voted for the resolution, but said he agreed with Dorris' assessment that the chief had been an honorable tradition for many years.

"Certainly my vote is not intended to dishonor anybody's memories, or to deny the fact that it's been a great tradition," Eppley said.

The board Tuesday also took the unusual step of ratifying the February decision. The earlier decision came without a vote from the board, which Eppley has said wasn't needed. Nonetheless, board spokesman Thomas Hardy said voting now could blunt any legal action claiming there should have been a vote.

"This certainly would count as formal action by the board," Hardy said.

A state lawmaker asked the Attorney General's office whether making the decision without a vote was legal.

Board members also voted down Dorris' resolution that would have directed the university to join a lawsuit filed by the last two students to portray the chief. The suit asks a judge to determine whether the NCAA could sanction Illinois over the mascot.

Board member Robert Sperling told Dorris that his resolution would only postpone the inevitable.

"The time has come," he said. "It [The chief] bothered a whole lot of people for a long time."

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