Centuries ago, in the upper Midwest, existed a loose confederation of Native American tribes that included, among others, the Cahokia, Tamaroa, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, and Peoria. In the Algonquin language that many of these tribes shared, the native inhabitants of the region were collectively known as “ih-LYNN-o-ah.” Over time, French settlers in the region evolved this pronunciation to its present form, and in 1818, Illinois became the name of our nation’s 21st state.
Chief Illiniwek embodies the attributes we value as alumni, students, and friends of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The tradition of the Chief is a link to our great past, a tangible symbol of an intangible spirit, filled with qualities to which a person of any background can aspire: goodness, strength, bravery, truthfulness, courage, and dignity.
Honor the Chief Society
Honor the chief and the tradition for which he stands
The University of Illinois was established in the year 1867. Soon after, it began fielding athletic teams named the “Fighting Illini.” The University was as proud then, as it is now, to be associated with the native peoples for whom the state was named. The Illini attributes of strength, courage, and honor were deeply admired and well-respected.
In 1926, two Eagle Scouts, Lester Leutwiler and Ralph Hubbard, combined their extensive knowledge of Indian lore in the creation of “the Chief” - a symbol to represent both honor and tradition at the University of Illinois. Over the years, the Chief has served as a symbol of belonging for hundreds of thousands of men and women, all proud to call themselves “Illini,” and prouder still to honor the tradition for which the Chief stands.