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Chief Illiniwek To Perform For Last Time

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AP
The University of Illinois' controversial American Indian mascot was set to perform his last dance, and men who have previously portrayed Chief Illiniwek said they want the tradition to live on in some form.

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

Former chief Steve Raquel said he and other chiefs past and present hope to talk to the university about keeping the chief alive in some form.

"Even though the dances are done, there are a lot of loose openings, things we need to talk about with the university," said Raquel, who portrayed the chief during the 1992-93 school year and now works as a marketing executive. "When we think of retirement, we think there's a possibility that the chief may rise again."

Removing the chief frees the university of NCAA 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 postseason athletic events.

The sanctions, which were issued in 2005, will end after Wednesday night's appearance.

"We knew we were going to have to do something to get off the list," Lawrence Eppley, chairman of the University of Illinois board of trustees, said after the decision was announced.

The chief, who debuted in a homemade American Indian costume during an Illini football game in 1926, has been a subject of turmoil 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 it's considered a reference to the team's competitive spirit, school officials said.

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

Negotiations will continue over the chief's future on other fronts, too.

Dan Maloney and Logan Ponce, the students who currently portray the chief, have said they'd like to see the chief's image and the mascot's related history 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, which the university is paid for the rights to use.

Maloney, a graduate student who dons the costume at men's basketball and football games, was to portray the chief for the final dance Wednesday.

He and assistant chief Ponce, a sophomore, launched legal action to keep the mascot out of retirement, but a judge rejected their request.

Last Friday's decision by the school meant that Ponce had already 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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University of Illinois: http://www.uiuc.edu/