University of Illinois Reaches Deal in “Chief Illiniwek” Trademark Dispute

Associated Press / A student performing as "Chief Illiniwek" during past games at the University of Illinois

Indian Country Today

A long-running trademark dispute about the university's “Chief Illiniwek” mascot has ended.

The Honor the Chief Society, a group that wanted to use the university’s mascot for promotional purposes, and the University of Illinois, have reached a deal that spells out how the mascot’s name and image may be used.

In 2007, the university abandoned use of the mascot and its name at sports events after the NCAA determined that “Chief Illiniwek” was a "hostile and abusive" American Indian-based mascot. But this did not stop the society from continuing the tradition.

The society, which honors the chief by hosting events themed after the mascot’s name and image, filed a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices in 2009 to register the mascot’s logo and name. The society argued that because the university was no longer using the mascot, it had lost the right to use it.

But the university later filed a notice of opposition to the society’s application, saying they still owned the trademark for commercial purposes.

The society used the mascot at its events and someone dressed up like the chief and danced for fans. Student and alumni groups put the image on t-shirts, event fliers and other items as well.

Now, after signing the deal, the society agrees to use the chief in limited circumstances, and according to guidelines. The society’s co-founder, Roger Huddleston said he was relieved that an agreement was reached.

"We feel like we have more freedom than not because we at least know where the fences are," Huddleston said to the Chicago Tribune. "We can promote the history of the “Chief Illiniwek” tradition. We can talk about it. We can be an advocate for it."

"Basically, the agreement puts in writing the things we have been saying all along: You can't choose another person and say he is ‘the next Chief Illiniwek,’" said Robin Kaler, a spokeswoman for the UI at Urbana-Champaign, to the Tribune.

In other words, the society may have someone dress up like the chief and dance like the chief, but they cannot call that person “Chief Illiniwek.”

"There is no copyright on the dance," Kaler said. "But if someone dresses in a costume that looks like "Chief Illiniwek" and advertises it as "Chief Illiniwek," you can't do that. It really is on a case-by-case basis."

In 2007, when "Chief Illiniwek" was abandoned, American Indian groups and others said the mascot, used since 1926, was demeaning, according to USA Today.

RELATED Chief Illiniwek: Beloved by Students, (Still) Banned by the University

“Chief Illiniwek,” a barefoot student dressed in feather headdress and buckskin regalia, performed a three-minute dance during halftime at the university’s basketball, football and volleyball games.

The university's teams are called the “Fighting Illini,” but no mascot has been chosen to replace the chief.