A symbol/mascot of the University's athletic teams was, from 1926–2007, a Native American figure, Chief Illiniwek, who sparked significant controversy beginning in the 1980s. Critics of the Chief claimed that it was a racist stereotype and a symbol of the oppression to Native Americans that took place in past American history. Supporters claimed that it was inoffensive and a source of pride and reverence to the
Native American heritage of Illinois Past Sioux elder, Frank Fools Crow, made and sold an authentic ceremonial costume and headdress to the university; recently, the Oglala Sioux tribe demanded the costume and headdress back from the university, though this move was opposed by one of Fools Crow's descendants.
The University was (and is) deeply
divided on this issue; while some of the faculty condemned the symbol, the administration remained supportive of it. The University Board of Trustees announced on February 16, 2007, that the Chief's last public performance would be the final home game of the 2006–2007 Men's Basketball season. The name "Fighting Illini" was retained, as the NCAA rescinded its criticism of the use of the term. The name "Fighting
Illini" pre-dates the Chief Illiniwek symbol and was bestowed upon the team in honor of Illinoisans who fought in World War I; the use of the name "Illini" dates to the 19th century.