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Chief Illiniwek mascot creates cheers and jeers

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Chief Illiniwek may be one concern, but the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign may have other racial problems that need resolution.

The mascot issue has brought attention to underlying racial tension that has impacted American Indian and Latino/Latina students.

In November and December, some posts on a student Web site known as Facebook leveled attacks against at least one Lakota student; other racial slurs there were directed at all American Indians.

It's all about Chief Illiniwek, longtime UIUC mascot. A non-Indian dresses in Lakota-style regalia - not common in Illinois - and performs what many people refer to as stereotypical poses and dance steps during sporting events.

Racist comments on the Facebook site in November and December forced UIUC Chancellor Richard Herman to issue another in a series of letters to university students over racist behavior.

''As Chancellor, I can not and will not tolerate such violent threats. The University will take all legal and disciplinary actions available in response to the threatening messages,'' Herman wrote.

The Facebook page was titled, ''If they get rid of the Chief I'm Becoming a Racist.'' The page has been removed.

Two posts on that page were threatening toward the only Lakota woman on campus who has been active in opposition to the school's mascot.

''What they don't realize is that there was never a racist problem before ... but now I hate redskins and hope all those drunk, casino owning bums die,'' wrote one student at UIUC.

Another posting referred to the Lakota heritage of one woman and then went on to state that because she is Lakota, or Sioux, ''the Sioux Indians are the ones that killed off the Illini Indians, so she's just trying to finish what her ancestors started. I say we throw a tomohawk in her face.'' (The misspelling is in the original.)

Herman mentioned disciplinary actions; however, none has taken place as of press time, according to students on campus. No charges will be filed, according to Julia Rietz, state's attorney for the county of Champaign, Ill. It is not certain whether other disciplinary action will be taken.

''We made an appeal to see what they can do for the university to protect and call for safety, and we asked what they are going to do about this. It is an ongoing and persistent problem,'' said John McKinn, Gila River, a graduate student and assistant director at the UIUC Native American House.

Two parties organized by Greek organizations prompted two more letters from Herman. A ''Taco and Tequila'' party, as described by a variety of students, found partygoers in costumes that portrayed Latino/Latinas in stereotype. Some comments at the party, as was explained to Indian Country Today, indicated that people were dressed as ''illegal aliens'' and farm workers. One woman came as a pregnant Latina, students said. The party was organized by one fraternity and a sorority.

Another party, called the ''Pilgrims and Indians'' party, was organized as a birthday celebration for some students but became, according to students, a degrading display of anti-Indian behavior.

''Remember when as kids we would celebrate Pilgrim and Indian parties at school? Those days were awesome,'' were the words linked to a flyer that announced the party.

In an effort to curtail further racism activity and educate the campus on the subject, a forum was called for on Feb. 1, titled ''Racism, Power and Privilege on the UIUC Campus.''

The forum's intent was to bring student concerns about racist activity to the administration's attention.

''I think an anti-Indian climate is certainly focused and comes up mostly when it concerns the mascot issue. There is a general feeling that Indians don't exist at the University of Illinois, partly because there are no reservations in the state,'' McKinn said.

''This has been an ongoing problem and this year the students have done a good job of documenting. The Facebook was a tipping point,'' McKinn said.

Unrelated to the November and December parties and racist incidents, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Executive Committee passed a resolution on Jan. 17 requesting the return of the regalia used by Chief Illiniwek and asked that the use of Chief Illiniwek as a mascot be stopped.

The executive committee stated in the resolution that it supported the tribes that came from Illinois - the Peoria, Kaskaskia, Painakashuw and Wea nations - in their respective opposition to school's mascot.

The university obtained regalia from Fools Crow, an Oglala Chief. Fools Crow presented the full regalia to the university during a special honoring for Chief Illiniwek. Fools Crow was invited to the ceremony, according to his grandson, Mel Lone Hill.

Lone Hill, a respected Oglala elder, said that the regalia given to the university was his. It was never returned. Lone Hill said he was not sure if Fools Crow knew how the regalia would be used.

As to an eagle-feathered bonnet, Lone Hill said one was returned by the university in 1998. It was badly damaged, he said.

''I don't know how they got the bonnet, it was not a Sioux bonnet,'' he said.

''They told me there were two; I'm aware of one that was given back.''

Some news reports indicated that Lone Hill requested the regalia be returned. He told ICT that he was put in the middle of this and had not made any such request. His name is included in the Oglala executive committee resolution.

(Continued in part two)

Chief Illiniwek regalia mystery solved

The regalia used by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a long history that has become distorted over the years.

One sticky problem is the fact that many people claim the university has an eagle feather bonnet in storage, which is true. Others have been returned or are in the possession of the family of the person who created the regalia and bonnets. In one case the original Chief Illiniwek created his own regalia, which is in the possession of his family.

The eagle feathers held in storage by the university are legally held. In the early 1970s the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife approved the loan of eagle feathers to the university for public education and exhibit purposes.

In 1926 the original regalia with headdress was made by Lester Leutwiler, an Eagle Scout interested in ''Indian lore'' and the first portrayer of Chief Illiniwek. He also made a second and third headdress for his use while he acted as Chief Illiniwek. He made a new headdress each year he was the chief.

In 1930, the first set of regalia that was purchased by the university came from the Pine Ridge Reservation. Webber Borchers, a student, raised between $35 and $40 to hire Oglala women to create regalia and a headdress. The headdress contained 91 eagle feathers. The regalia consisted of a tunic, breastplate, leggings and moccasins. Those moccasins eventually wore out and were replaced.

The 1930 regalia was used until 1967. A facelift of the regalia was done in 1957 by a man named Joseph Kuhn.

In 1967 a second set of regalia was purchased consisting of a shirt and pants and made by, according to documents, an expert on Indian lore. The first headdress was reworked and used.

A new set of regalia was made by a person only known as an expert in Indian lore in 1968.

In 1982 Marching Illini director Gary Smith met with Chief Fools Crow, Oglala from Pine Ridge, to discuss acquiring a new set of regalia and according to a voucher paid $3,500 for the regalia that consisted of full regalia and headdress.

The acquisition consisted of a tunic, leggings, moccasins, breastplate and a headdress with 28 golden eagle tail feathers.

A separate document said that Mrs. Fools Crow presented Mrs. Smith with a blanket as a gift, and also a gift of a pipe that Fools Crow brought to use in the ceremony.

(The Oglala and Lakota were not historically in the Illinois area, and the Dakota were located in Minnesota.)

In 1982, a mistake in the football guide that said the regalia was a gift was corrected to indicate it was purchased for $3,500.

In 1983, Leutwiler donated the original regalia to the university.

President Stanly Ikenberry asked in 1987 that someone on Pine Ridge rework the Fools Crow bonnet-style headdress to add a trail with 25 eagle feathers.

In 1990, two new headdresses were created by Roy Hanks of Tolono that contained domestic turkey feathers. Also in 1990, in a phone call between the university and Anthony Whirlwind Horse, Oglala, a member of the Fools Crow family, Whirlwind told the university that the eagle feathers in the 1982 headdress were lent and not purchased.

A team or researchers from the Center for Wildlife Ecology examined the two headdresses in use and determined they were turkey feathers.

In 1991, Whirlwind Horse was informed that the University wanted to return the headdress to Fools Crow's family. That headdress is now in the hands of Mel Lone Hill, Fools Crow's grandson.

The only remaining headdress at the university was from the 1930 acquisition.

In 2003 the remaining eagle feather headdress was moved from the marching band to the department of intercollegiate athletics.

In 2006 the Webber Borchers regalia, acquired from the Oglala Lakota, was stored in the Sousa Archives on the university campus.

The second and third sets of regalia are in use today by the two Chief Illiniwek portrayers. Each portrayer has his own regalia.