Chief Illiniwek danced his official last dance at the University of Illinois on Feb. 21, 2007.
But that hasn't stopped U. of I. alumni and other Chief supporters from working to keep the controversial mascot around, leading the state's flagship public university and Illiniwek fans to clash from time to time.
In a recent development, U. of I. officials and organizers of the Honor the Chief Society have drafted an agreement that would end a trademark dispute and spell out specifically how the name and image can be used, according to a copy obtained by The News-Gazette of Champaign.
Roger Huddleston, co-founder of the Honor the Chief Society, said he expects the university to sign the agreement by the end of the week. The group filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2009 to register the Chief Illiniwek symbol, arguing that the university no longer had rights to it because it wasn't using it. The university opposed the group's application, and by signing the agreement, the group agrees to end that fight.
"It allows us to do all the things we have been doing. We feel like we have more freedom than not because we at least know where the fences are," Huddleston said. "We can promote the history of the Chief Illiniwek tradition. We can talk about it. We can be an advocate for it."
What the group can't do is call anyone "Chief Illiniwek" or "the Next Chief Illiniwek," or use the Chief logo. It also has to include the following disclaimer on its website and any promotional materials: "The Honor the Chief Society is not sponsored, licensed, approved or endorsed by the University of Illinois."
The group, however, can use the phrase "Honor the Chief" on merchandise, and can sponsor events about the mascot's history and symbolism.
Robin Kaler, a spokeswoman for the U. of I. at Urbana-Champaign campus, said the agreement is in the "review process."
"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," Kaler said. "They can say 'we like Chief Illiniwek and wish he could come back.'"
The agreement states that the group can organize an event that includes the Chief's traditional dance performance, though the university will not "approve, sponsor or endorse" such an event.
"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."
The 81-year tradition ended after years of threats, lawsuits and NCAA sanctions against the university's athletic teams. Chief opponents said the mascot was culturally insensitive to Native Americans, while supporters said it was an honorable tradition.
The chief, a barefoot student dressed in a feather headdress and buckskin regalia, performed a three-minute dance during halftime at basketball, football and volleyball games.Copyright © 2015, RedEye