On the warpath: UND back­ers fight to keep Sioux logo

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARDSON

Sup­port­ers of the Uni­ver­sity of North Dakota’s Fight­ing Sioux nick­name and logo aren’t giv­ing up without a fight.

Hours af­ter the state Board of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion de­cided to re­tire the Fight­ing Sioux name on April 8, fans of the nick­name emerged in full back­lash mode. The out­cry in­cludes ef­forts to cut alumni giv­ing, a pe­ti­tion to re­in­state the nick­name, protest marches on the uni­ver­sity, and even talk of le­gal action.

The re­ac­tion has spilled off cam­pus to the nearby Spirit Lake Sioux reser­va­tion, where tribal mem­bers last year voted over­whelm­ingly to re­tain the nick­name and logo.

“Al­most all the com­ments I’m hear­ing are from peo­ple who are sad. They feel de­ceived,” said Eu­nice David­son, a mem­ber of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe. “I re­ally do feel the board didn’t lis­ten to the Sioux peo­ple.”

Mrs. David­son said the Com­mit­tee for Un­der­stand­ing and Re­spect, a tribal or­ga­ni­za­tion, is weigh­ing its op­tions, in­clud­ing an­other le­gal chal­lenge. The group had sued to stop the board from reach­ing a de­ci­sion on the nick­name un­til Nov. 30, which was the dead­line in an agree­ment be­tween the state and the Na­tional Col­le­giate Ath­let­ics As­so­ci­a­tion.

The state Supreme Court ruled against the group April 8, say­ing it didn’t have stand­ing to bring the law­suit. Within hours, the North Dakota Board of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, which hap­pened to be hold­ing its monthly meet­ing that day, moved to im­ple­ment its May 2009 de­ci­sion to re­tire the Fight­ing Sioux.

Back­ers of the nick­name wanted the board to wait un­til a de­ci­sion had been reached by the state’s other Sioux tribe, the Stand­ing Rock Sioux. Mem­bers of the Stand­ing Rock Sioux tribe re­cently sub­mit­ted more than 1,000 sig­na­tures to the tribal coun­cil call­ing for a ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue.

Fight­ing Sioux sup­port­ers noted that the Stand­ing Rock Sioux tribe could still vote to ap­prove the nick­name, which would place the board in an awk­ward po­si­tion. Un­der NCAA rules, uni­ver­si­ties must re­tire Amer­i­can In­dian mas­cots un­less they re­ceive the per­mis­sion of the name­sake tribe or tribes.

“We’re still hold­ing out hope that the Stand­ing Rock will al­low the peo­ple to have a vote,” said Mrs. David­son. “If they did, I re­ally be­lieve most peo­ple would sup­port it.”

The Stand­ing Rock Sioux had op­posed the nick­name for years, but in Oc­to­ber the tribe elected a new chair­man and board mem­bers who ap­peared more sup­port­ive of the Fight­ing Sioux name. Still, the is­sue clearly wasn’t a pri­or­ity for the board; its only action was an April 6 vote to de­lay dis­cus­sion on the mat­ter un­til the state board made its de­ci­sion.

Given that the state board was wait­ing for the tribe’s ap­proval, the vote left many Sioux watch­ers scratch­ing their heads. Even so, there were strong ob­jec­tions to the board’s re­fusal to give the Stand­ing Rock Sioux more time to con­sider the is­sue.

In an April 11 ed­i­to­rial, the Grand Forks (N.D.) Her­ald called the board’s de­ci­sion to act be­fore the Nov. 30 dead­line a “mis­take.”

“By do­ing so, the board left it­self open to the charge that it doesn’t care what In­dian peo­ple think — ex­actly the claim nick­name op­po­nents had made in the decades lead­ing up to the set­tle­ment,” said the ed­i­to­rial. “The board should have let the process at Stand­ing Rock play out.”

The only ap­par­ent rea­son for the rush was that the uni­ver­sity wants to join the Divi­sion I Sum­mit League, but league of­fi­cials won’t con­sider an ap­pli­ca­tion un­til the nick­name is­sue is re­solved. In an April 9 press con­fer­ence, how­ever, the uni­ver­sity’s ath­letic di­rec­tor and four coaches said they were dis­ap­pointed by the board’s move.

“We got away from what it was sup­posed to be about, and it was sup­posed to be about the wishes of the Na­tive Amer­i­can peo­ple in North Dakota,” said Dave Hak­stol, the men’s hockey coach. “Some­where along the way, we got off track, and it seems a bit of maybe po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness and a smaller mi­nor­ity have been heard on this sub­ject.”

Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Brian Fai­son agreed that the move would re­sult in a drop in alumni sup­port for the sports pro­grams, at least in the short term.

“There’s no ques­tion there’s go­ing to be push­back,” said Mr. Fai­son. “This is a very emo­tional is­sue for a lot of our fans. To what ex­tent that will be, we don’t know.”

Alumni al­ready have set up a Face­book page call­ing for an end to do­na­tions un­til the Fight­ing Sioux name is re­in­stated. Oth­ers are cir­cu­lat­ing a pe­ti­tion on Face­book call­ing for the re­turn of the nick­name.

Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent Tim O’Keefe posted a mes­sage on the group’s Web site as soon as the de­ci­sion was reached ask­ing alumni “to come to­gether for the ben­e­fit of the uni­ver­sity, for our stu­dents, and for our stu­dent-ath­letes.”

The state board voted in May 2009 to re­tire the nick­name, but then granted a se­ries of ex­ten­sions to take into ac­count tribal elec­tions. The board’s April 8 de­ci­sion merely im­ple­mented the orig­i­nal vote, said uni­ver­sity spokesman Peter John­son.

He said e-mails and phone calls were run­ning about 4 to 1 against the re­tire­ment of the Fight­ing Sioux name.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Uni­ver­sity of North Dakota stu­dents and nick­name sup­port­ers rally at Ralph En­gel­stad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. on April 9, one day af­ter the North Dakota Board of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion di­rected the uni­ver­sity to be­gin re­tir­ing the Fight­ing Sioux nick­name...

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