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Opposition to Indian Mascots Grows

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CHICAGO (AP) — A school board in suburban Chicago votes to do away with ``Indians'' as a nickname for a high school. At the University of Illinois, American Indians and others are trying to force the school to retire its mascot Chief Illiniwek.

Activists say these events are part of a resurgence to eliminate potentially offensive Indian nicknames as schools become more conscious about racism and face increased scrutiny about their mascot names.

``The pace is really picking up,'' said Cyd Crue, president of the Illinois chapter of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media. ``We're seeing more educators around the country, in middle schools and high schools and at universities, concerned about the racial climate in schools (and) are dropping these symbols.''

The movement started making headlines in the 1970s, when the University of Oklahoma rid itself of an Indian character named ``Little Red'' and Stanford abandoned the ``Indians'' as its team name.

Among the schools that recently dropped Indian nicknames are Marquette, which replaced Warriors in favor of the Golden Eagles; Miami of Ohio, which changed Redskins to the RedHawks; and Seattle University, which switched from Chieftains to Redhawks this year. Campus battles continue, including at the University of North Dakota and San Diego State University.

The NFL's Washington Redskins face a lawsuit over their name, and other professional teams face pressure to change their nicknames. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled last year that Redskins have no right to trademark the name because it is disparaging to American Indians. The team has filed an appeal.

``There seems to be some resurgence in this romanticism of Native Americans,'' said Dorene Wiese, who chairs the board of the American Indian Health Service in Chicago. ``We're kind of in vogue now.''

Perhaps more important, though, is what Wiese saw at a recent school board meeting in Skokie to discuss doing away with Niles West High School's Indian mascot.

``One man who spoke is part of an American Indian lawyers association,'' she said. ``Not that long ago there weren't any Native American lawyers in Chicago (and) it's hard to do this kind of thing without lawyers.''

Schools that choose not to change Indian nicknames could see their funding cut. In New York, the Onteora School District reversed a decision to drop the high school's American Indian mascot. The move prompted activists to ask the U.S. Education Department pull the district's federal funding.

Kevin Gover, who heads the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs, applauds such an effort.

``Any school putting forward a stereotyped image of any race is in violation of civil rights laws, and I think should lose federal funding,'' he said. ``If the Justice Department won't do it, lots of lawyers like me will do it for them.''

Not all schools face opposition to American Indian mascots and nicknames, including Florida State University, where the nickname ``Seminoles'' has the support of the tribe for which the team is named.

But the debate persists in Illinois about Chief Illiniwek, a symbol the university says is meant to pay tribute to American Indians. The school, whose nickname is the Fighting Illini, has the support of Gov. George Ryan, who said he sees nothing derogatory or racist about the mascot.

The school hired a former Cook County judge to study the issue, and he is scheduled to appear at a public forum this week at the campus.

``The chief is a religious figure for Native American people and he doesn't belong as entertainment for drunk football fans at halftime,'' said Monica Garreton, a University of Illinois senior and anti-chief activist. ``It's comparable to Little Black Sambo and Amos and Andy.''

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On the Net:

University of Illinois: http://www.uillinois.edu

National Coalition on Racism in Sports and in the Media: http://www.aics.org/NCRSM/index.htm
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