Chief Illiniwek: Understanding the Issues

Defaced billboard saying Honor the Chief with graffiti changing the meaning

photo by Jack Brighton

To some, Chief Illiniwek is an honored symbol of the University of Illinois which should be preserved. To others, he is a race-based sports mascot that had to go.For parts of three decades, opponents demanded that the University of Illinois Board of Trustees retire the Chief. The Board voted to affirm their support of the Chief in 1990, and the Illinois General Assembly gave its backing several years later. Amid continued protest, UI administrators launched a campus-wide dialogue to better understand the conflicting perspectives.Several more years passed until the NCAA ruled in 2006 that certain Native American-based college mascots and symbols were "hostile and abusive" to minorities. The next winter, under the threat of losing the right to host post-season athletic events, trustees voted to retire Chief Illiniwek.