Inuit Inukshuk Symbolizes Vancouver's Olympics - But Who's Cashing In?

Vancouver Olympic Logo; Authentic Inuit Inukshuk (

The ubiquitous symbol of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada comes from an ancient cultural icon and practical tool of the Inuit people – the inukshuk. An inukshuk is a stack of stones traditionally used by the Inuit of the arctic to mark anything from a hunting spot to a food cache. In 2005, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympics chose a multicolored humanoid version of an inukshuk as the games' official 2010 emblem.

That set off a flurry of commercialization that has seen the inukshuk placed on an incredible variety of products and displays, including;

Key chains, bottle openers, T-shirts, snow globes, playing cards, and rain gear for dogs

The Inukie Cookie, which lets you build your own inukshuk out of maple-flavored shortbread

The Vancouver Aquarium’s 10-foot-high inukshuk made out of 4,368 cans of sustainably fished salmon and tuna

Canadian Tire Corp.’s $38.00 inukshuk garden statue

Richmond, BC’s six-story inukshuk built from several empty cargo containers

Chocolatier Daniel’s 320-pound inukshuk made of solid Belgian chocolate

No official program exists to provide a share of inukshuk product revenue to First Nations. However, some 1,000 Inuit carvers in the arctic territory of Nunavut have been hired to make authentic inukshuit for sale at the Olympics, says Dennis Kim, head of merchandising for the Vancouver Organizing Committee. A 15½-inch statue costs around $1,880.

US Supreme Court Declines To Hear "Redskins" Trademark Case

The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear a lawsuit on behalf of Native American activists who assert the Washington Redskins' football team name is so offensive that it does not deserve trademark protection. The decision lets stand a lower court ruling that under the legal doctrine of “laches”, the plaintiffs waited too long to bring the challenge. The Court issued its ruling without substantive comment.

American trademark law prohibits registration of a name that "may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, . . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute." The team has been known as the Redskins since 1933. The lawsuit was filed in 1992, when seven activists challenged a Redskins trademark issued in 1967. The plaintiffs won an early victory in the 1970s when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board said the name could be interpreted as offensive to Native Americans.

The team appealed that ruling, and judges at the federal District and Circuit levels held the activists' trademark cancellation claim was barred by the doctrine of laches, which serves as a defense against stale legal claims. The activists argued that disparaging trademarks can be challenged at any time, citing a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. The decision was written by then-judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., who now sits on the Supreme Court.

In the wake of this legal setback, Tony Gonzales, Director of the American Indian Movement West in San Francisco, suggests that Presidential action is needed. Citing the many psychological studies and legal briefs that highlight cultural damage arising from derogatory human mascots, he asks “How much more has to come forward before the President takes action?” AIM West is planning a protest on 13 December 2009 at Oakland Coliseum to coincide with the Washington Redskins game against the Oakland Raiders.

Redskins 1 - Dignity 0? Native Americans Lose Offensive Mascot Lawsuit

(Courtesy of Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination)

A federal court has handed the Washington Redskins a legal victory in a 17-year fight with Native American plaintiffs who contend the football team's mascot and logo are racially offensive. The decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington doesn't address the question of racism, but rests instead on the legal theory of laches – the plaintiffs waited too long to commence their lawsuit to ban the trademark.

The team first received federal trademarks on the name “Redskins” in 1967. The Native American plaintiffs were initially successful in attacking the brand -- the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office panel canceled the trademarks in 1999. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly overturned that decision in 2003 in part because the suit was filed decades after the first Redskins trademark was issued. The U.S. Court of Appeals then remanded the case back to Kollar-Kotelly, noting that the youngest of the plaintiffs was only 1-year-old in 1967 and therefore could not have taken legal action at the time. Kollar-Kotelly’s new ruling rejected that argument, finding that the youngest plaintiff turned 18 in 1984 and therefore waited almost eight years beyond the age of majority to join the lawsuit. The ruling does not address whether the “Redskins” name is offensive or racist, and the holding states that it is not commenting on "the appropriateness of Native American imagery for team names."

The team’s attorney Bob Raskopf says millions have been spent on the "Redskins" brand and the team would have suffered great economic loss if they lost the trademark registrations. "It's a great day for the Redskins and their fans and their owner Dan Snyder," he said. However, a new group of Native American plaintiffs ranging in age from 18 to 24 have filed a nearly identical case. "We're hopeful that case will lead us ultimately to a ruling on the merits," said Philip Mause, attorney for the plaintiffs. "We're very confident about our position on the merits. We think this term is disparaging of Native Americans."