Chief settlement could affect Council of Chiefs

The University of Illinois has settled its trademark dispute with one organization that supports Chief Illiniwek, but the agreement could have implications for another group that sponsors students who continue to portray the Chief.

The settlement announced this week bars the Honor the Chief Society from using the term "Chief Illiniwek" or the official Chief logo to promote events, such as its former "Next Dance" rallies.

It can use them to advocate for reinstating the UI symbol or to discuss the history of the Chief, which are not considered "trademark uses."

But it cannot refer to any dancer or portrayer as "Chief Illiniwek" or "the next Chief Illiniwek."

The Council of Chiefs, a group of UI alumni who served as Chief Illiniwek, has appointed an unofficial "Chief" portrayer since the official symbol was retired in 2007. Dan Maloney, the last official Chief, continued in that role unofficially in 2008 and was succeeded by his former assistant, Logan Ponce. UI graduate student Ivan Dozier has held the unofficial title since 2010.

"Certainly one of the challenges that we'd seen in recent years was that there continued to be this selection of people identified as Chief Illiniwek, the next Chief Illiniwek, which certainly gave the impression to a lot of people that that somehow was affiliated with the university or sanctioned by the university," campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said earlier this week, in response to News-Gazette questions about the settlement's impact on the Chief portrayers.

"If you want to have tryouts to have someone portray a Native person dancing, you can't call that person you select Chief Illiniwek," Kaler said.

Wearing a replica Chief costume, Dozier appears in the stands at UI football, volleyball and basketball games. He raises his arms during the singing of "Hail to the Orange" and then leaves but does not perform the dance, said Steve Raquel, president of the Council of Chiefs, who portrayed Chief Illiniwek in 1992-93.

"We very rarely do any dancing at this point," Raquel said. "We've tried to limit that in light of everything going on."

Chief opponents last year complained about an appearance by Dozier at Hoopeston High School's homecoming that was originally billed as a performance by Chief Illiniwek. It included a dance to the UI's traditional "Three-in-One" music. UI officials subsequently asked Hoopeston not to use the name "Chief Illiniwek" and to remove any affiliation with the UI.

Raquel said the group makes clear that it's not officially associated with the university and has tried to work "in good faith" within the UI's trademark restrictions to carry on the Chief tradition.

The council tries to hold tryouts off campus and also came up with its own logo last year for a line of T-shirts, he said.

However, the council does refer to Dozier as the "current student portrayer of Chief Illiniwek," he said. Its website, TheChiefLives.com, lists all the Chiefs since the first performance in 1926, including the unofficial portrayers since 2007. And the group's Twitter handle is @chiefilliniwek, though Raquel said that was to protect the name from a parody account.

"We understand this is a tradition that we want to keep continuing to endorse and support," he said. "For everything from merchandise to the website, we've tried to the extent we feel we need to be respectful of the trademark. We understand what the university owns and doesn't own."

The university has not ordered the group to stop holding tryouts, and it has no plans for a tryout for at least a year, Raquel said.

This week's settlement was strictly between the UI and the Honor the Chief Society but states that "the parties expressly reserve the right to prosecute suits and claims against any and all other entities or persons that may use like or confusingly similar marks to either of the parties' trademarks."

Kaler wasn't sure if the university planned to follow up with the Council of Chiefs. If any group holds tryouts for a new Chief, "we will certainly look very closely at whether we would object," she said.

"Our approach in the past has been to pursue things that are brought to our attention," Kaler said. "We just don't have the staff to search day in and day out for things."

Roger Huddleston, co-founder of the Honor the Chief Society, said the settlement should not prohibit the Chief tryouts.

It's been "made very, very clear by all parties, especially the university, that that's a freedom of speech issue," he said.

UI officials have said they can police the name and image of Chief Illiniwek, but dances and costumes are forms of free expression protected by the First Amendment. Because the dance evolved with each Chief portrayer, there is no single Chief dance.

Kaler said Friday that the university will evaluate everything "on a case-by-case basis."

"I think the message we're sending is that we are going to protect our trademarks," she said.

"It's just impossible to say on a blanket level that 'x' is not going to be allowed and 'y' is going to be allowed."

The issue comes down to whether another party is using the university's trademarks without authorization or causes any "confusion" about whether the university is officially backing a particular event or product, she said.

If an event is held that "appears to be somehow sanctioned by us, it's a sticky wicket," she said.

"Whether for pay or not, if it's any kind of a public event, if someone is identifying themselves as the Chief and confusing people into thinking it might be something that the university has sanctioned, then we wouldn't allow it. The things that might confuse people are, if you're wearing a costume that looks like Chief Illiniwek used to wear, and if you're doing the dance Chief Illiniwek used to do, and you're doing it to the music Chief Illiniwek used to dance to, that's going to create confusion."

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spangwurfelt wrote on October 19, 2013 at 8:10 am

Hey, dja notice that even that Charles "Past is Perfect" Krauthammer is now calling for the Redskins to change their name, as a matter of simple morality, as an act against racism?

When you've lost even Krauthammer, boy, you are hanging waaaay off the edge.