Non-Binding Vote Planned on Chief Illiniwek

Students have placed an item on a campus ballot to make the controversial mascot the official symbol of the campus

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Controversial symbol "Chief Illiniwek" of the University of Illinois performs during the half-time show of a game between Illinois and Michigan at Memorial Stadium October 16, 2004 in Champaign.

    UPDATE: U of I Students Back Illiniwek in Campus Vote

    It's been almost six years since Chief Illiniwek last danced at the University of Illinois, but students have placed an item on a campus ballot to make the controversial mascot the official symbol of the campus.

    This week's nonbinding vote comes in response to a student-backed contest to suggest a new mascot. University trustees voted to shelve Chief Illiniwek in 2007 under threat of NCAA sanctions.

    Josh Good, a student behind the effort to get the item on the ballot, said he wants students who support the mascot to be heard. He also hopes to block any effort to create a new mascot in order to diminish the memory and tradition of the old one.

    "To replace that with some mascot just for the sake of having a mascot is unnecessary and I believe is disrespectful to the traditions of Illinois," he told The News-Gazette.

    Opponents said Chief Illiniwek, portrayed each year by a student who wore a costume and feathered headdress and danced at sporting events, was demeaning to American Indians. Fans insist the portrayal was intended to be honorable.

    Chancellor Phyllis Wise says she'll watch the results, but said the chief isn't coming back.

    "It's pretty clear that both the (university) board of trustees and the NCAA said that the use of Chief Illiniwek as a symbol for the University of Illinois is not approved if we want to be involved in postseason play," she said. "And so my view is that we are not going to bring back the Chief."

    The group behind the mascot contest, Campus Spirit Revival, says it hoped looking for a new mascot might help the campus move on.

    "There is no denying our past mascot was controversial and divisive," student Thomas Ferrarell said.

    The university still plays "Three-in-One," music to which the Chief traditionally danced, and a student wearing a Chief Illiniwek costume sometimes appears in the crowd -- without university approval.

    The mascot contest, also nonbinding, was sponsored in part by the Student Senate. Campus Spirit Revival has solicited ideas since January and hopes to eventually present a winner to school administrators as a possible new mascot. The school isn't involved in the contest.

    Ideas shown on the group's Facebook page range from a stern-looking Abraham Lincoln (leader of "The Fightin' Abes") to an orange-and-blue bluegill, Illinois' state fish.

    This report was published March 4, 2013.