CHICAGO, March 16 (UPI) -- The Illinois Native American Bar Association is suing the University of Illinois seeking to force the school to retire Chief Illiniwek as a sports mascot.
The buckskin and eagle feather headdress wearing character has danced at U of I athletic events on the Urbana-Champaign campus for 78 years and has been a lightning rod of criticism from groups who say the mascot is racist and perpetuates a stereotype of American Indians.
A lawsuit claims the university's refusal to dump the chief violates the state's 2003 Civil Rights Act that bans governments from discrimination based on race, color or national origin.
"The Chief Illiniwek sports mascot is a false and demeaning characterization of a Native American," the suit said.
The university said the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights ruled in 1995 the mascot did not violate federal civil rights laws.
"The University of Illinois complies with state and federal laws concerning discrimination, due process and equal protection, as well as the university's own non-discriminatory policy," spokesman Tom Hardy told the Chicago Tribune.