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University of Illinois retires controversial mascot after decades of protests

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By David Mercer -- Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois (AP) - After 81 years of war paint and feathered headdresses, the University of Illinois' controversial American Indian mascot performed his last dance Feb. 21.

Removing Chief Illiniwek frees the university of NCAA sanctions after the organization said Illiniwek - portrayed by buckskin-clad students who dance at athletic events - was an offensive use of American Indian imagery.

The NCAA had barred the school from hosting postseason athletic events. The sanctions, issued in 2005, ended after his Feb. 21 appearance.

The chief, who debuted in 1926, has been a controversial subject for decades.

Supporters saw him as an honored symbol of both American Indian tradition and school sports. Detractors, including some American Indians and university academics, said the chief and his dance were racist and insulting.

Merchandise containing images of the chief continues to be made by suppliers and sold by vendors.

The students who currently portray the chief, and their predecessors, want the chief's image and the mascot's related history to be celebrated by the university, perhaps in a museum.

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A history of Chief Illiniwek

* 1926: Chief Illiniwek, conceived by assistant band director Ray Dvorak, first appears at Illinois/Pennsylvania football game in Philadelphia.

*1943: Chief Illiniwek is temporarily replaced by Princess Illiniwek, Idelle Stith-Brooks, the only woman to portray the mascot.

*1975: Anti-Chief protest appears in the University of Illinois yearbook, Illio, and includes an excerpt from an essay titled ''Challenge to the Chief.''

*1990: UI board of trustees votes to make Chief Illiniwek the official university symbol.

*1991: Student Government Association passes resolution declaring Chief Illiniwek discriminatory and calls for its elimination and an apology to American Indians.

*1997: Professor Jay Rosenstein's anti-chief documentary, ''In Whose Honor?'' airs on PBS.

*1998: Faculty/Student Senate asks trustees to ''retire Chief Illiniwek immediately.''

*2000: Board announces the renewal of dialogue on the mascot issue.

*March 2001: Ten of 12 trustees support keeping Illiniwek, but suggest the school work with opponents on compromise.

*May 2001: Trustee Roger Plummer appointed to study whether a compromise can be found to settle the chief controversy.

*2002: Plummer tells the board that there is no compromise and recommends either replacing Chief Illiniwek with a less offensive mascot or retaining the chief. The board takes no action.

*2003: University trustee withdraws a resolution calling for the retirement of Chief Illiniwek and says she will reintroduce it the next year.

*2004: University trustees urge supporters and critics to reach a ''consensus conclusion'' on Chief Illiniwek.

*2005: NCAA bans the use of American Indian mascots by sports teams during postseason tournaments.

*Feb. 16, 2007: University officials announce they will drop Chief Illiniwek following the last men's home game of the season, Feb. 21.

*Feb. 21, 2007: Chief Illiniwek performs for the last time.

Source: the Associated Press