- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

1:08 p.m.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After 81 years of war paint and feathered headdresses, the University of Illinois’ American Indian mascot is performing his last dance.

After that, Chief Illiniwek’s image and regalia will continue to be a subject of negotiations.

The mascot, whose fate was decided by school officials last week, will take center stage at Assembly Hall for one last performance tonight during the men’s basketball game between Illinois and Michigan.

Removing the chief frees the university of National Collegiate Athletic Association sanctions after the organization deemed Illiniwek — portrayed by buckskin-clad students who dance at home football and basketball games and other athletic events — an offensive use of American Indian imagery and barred the school from hosting post-season athletic events.

The sanctions, which were issued in 2005, will end after tonight’s appearance.

“We knew we were going to have to do something to get off the list,” said Lawrence Eppley, chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, after the decision was announced.

Still, the students who portray the chief and have done so in the past want the chief’s image and the mascot’s related history to be celebrated by the university, perhaps in a museum.

Merchandise containing images of the chief continues to be made by suppliers and sold by vendors at Assembly Hall and sporting-goods stores. No deadline has been set to stop making Illiniwek paraphernalia; the university is paid for the rights to use the image.

The chief, who debuted in a homemade American Indian costume during an Illini football game in 1926, has been a controversial subject for decades.

Supporters see the dancing mascot and his elaborate costume as an honored symbol of both American Indian tradition and Illini sports. Detractors, including some American Indians and university academics, say the chief and his dance are racist and insulting.

Under the plan announced last week, the university still will be able to use the name Illini because it’s short for Illinois, and the school can use the term Fighting Illini, because that’s considered a reference to the team’s competitive spirit, school officials said.

Neither of those ideas sits well with the activists who opposed the chief. They say they want the university to end the use of the names.

Graduate student Dan Maloney, who dons the costume at men’s basketball and football games, was to portray the chief for the final dance tonight.

Maloney, along with assistant chief Logan Ponce, a sophomore, even initiated legal action to keep the mascot out of retirement, but a judge rejected their request.

Friday’s decision by the school meant that Ponce already had appeared as the chief for the last time.

“My last performance, my parents were here for that,” he said. “If it was my last, I was happy with it.”

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