North Dakota hockey fans still fight to call team ‘Sioux’
MINOT, N.D. he University of North Dakota has changed its sports team nickname to the Fighting Hawks, the winner in an online vote over Roughriders. But hockey fan Duffy Doubek wasn’t thrilled with either option.
“I think they both (stink). I dislike them equally well,” Mr. Doubek, owner of Duffy’s Hockey and Sports, said on the eve of the vote. “The majority of the populace and alumni don’t want a new nickname. They just don’t want to have any nickname.”
Unless, of course, they can keep the Fighting Sioux. But unlike with the Washington Redskins — owner Dan Snyder has said the team will keep the name for as long as he owns the franchise — that is no longer an option.
At least not an official option. The NCAA may have succeeded in forcing universities to eliminate American Indianthemed nicknames, mascots and logos, but that hasn’t stopped the defiant Sioux-loving nation.
The stands at Ralph Engelstad Arena are packed during games, with boosters chanting Sioux cheers and wearing Sioux gear, even though UND has had no nickname since 2012, when North Dakotans voted to
Tretire the Fighting Sioux in the face of an NCAA threat to forfeit postseason games.
The NCAA tried to shush the fans by warning in August that action may be taken against the UND athletics program if other schools complain about chants such as “home of the Sioux,” which is sung at the end of the national anthem. “Schools can be held accountable for their fans’ actions/behavior at school events,” said an NCAA spokeswoman in an email to the Grand Forks Herald.
University spokesman Peter Johnson said there has been no attempt by the university to muzzle the fans, adding, “People can wear what they’re going to wear, people can say what they want to say” within the bounds of acceptable behavior.
Still, university officials are hopeful that the fan base will warm up to the winner of the nickname competition. The final runoff vote of students, alumni, faculty, staff, retirees and donors was announced Wednesday, with the Fighting Hawks besting the Roughriders by 57.24 to 42.76 percent.
At a press conference, UND President Robert Kelley called it a “very, very exciting day,” saying he was “very pleased to let you know that we’ve brought the past to the point where we’re going to transition into our future on our nickname issue at this exceptional university.”
The university sent out about 82,000 ballots via Qualtrics email and received back 26,479. Some eligible voters were spotted trying to sell their ballots on Craigslist.
But many fans were upset that the ballots haven’t included a “North Dakota/UND” option, which would maintain the university’s nickname-free status. UND President Robert Kelley considered adding the choice but decided against it.
“He got an awful lot of feedback and ultimately decided to support the recommendations of the nickname committee,” said Mr. Johnson.
On the UND Fighting Sioux Hockey page on Facebook, which has more than 13,000 followers, Courtney Peterson said, “No one received 50% because they’re all terrible. Take a hint and leave it North Dakota.”
Yahoo Sports called this month’s nickname vote “completely superfluous, as the stands for hockey games will still be flooded by Fighting Sioux gear.”
No state resisted the NCAA’s 2005 decree for longer than North Dakota. Highlights of the saga included the 2012 statewide vote and Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s signing of a 2011 bill ordering the state Board of Higher Education to retain the Fighting Sioux nickname.
The NCAA permits universities that win the blessing of the local tribes to keep American Indian-related nicknames, but while North Dakota’s Spirit Lake Sioux voted overwhelmingly to grant permission, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council voted against the name’s continued use.
Forcing a university fan base to embrace a nickname is a shaky proposition, as other schools can attest. At the University of Denver, for example, officials have tried without success to replace “Denver Boone,” the chubby, bearded mascot drawn by Walt Disney, who was dropped in 1998 after being deemed “unrepresentative” of the student body.
An effort to usher in “Ruckus,” a redtailed hawk, as a mascot for the Denver Pioneers teams was scrapped in 2007. Since then “Denver Boone” has reemerged as the unofficial mascot, complete with privately backed spirit wear and a costumed figure who appears at games and events.
At his shop Mr. Duffy keeps by his cash register an autographed drawing of the Fighting Sioux logo by American Indian artist Bennett Brien, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Hanging from the rafters are old UND Sioux jerseys.
Casey Ryan, who works at the store, predicted that the outcome of the vote won’t change the culture.
“If you live here, you either have a Sioux hat or jersey. There are thousands of pieces out there,” said Mr. Ryan. “They’re still going to wear their Sioux jerseys, they’re still going to chant, ‘Let’s go, Sioux.’”