Virg Foss commentary: Stop muzzling the voices that matterN.D. Board of Higher Education should heed the wishes of the Standing Rock people
By: Virg Foss, Grand Forks Herald
The tribal council of Standing Rock Reservation, presented with a petition including more than 1,000 names of Native Americans calling for a vote on the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname at UND, asked the state for direction.
The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education gave it to them — they effectively told the Sioux tribe to go to hell, though not that bluntly, of course.
Didn’t matter that the Spirit Lake Sioux had overwhelmingly voted to support the nickname. Didn’t matter that very likely it would have received the same support at Standing Rock, had the board allowed time for democracy to proceed and a vote take place.
It apparently doesn’t matter to the Board of Higher Education. How else can one explain the ruling?
Had that scenario played out, North Dakota would have met the criteria spelled out in the court case agreement with the NCAA, winning approval of the two Sioux tribes in the state to keep the name.
I heard the news on my car radio last week as I passed by the little Minnesota town of Effie on my way to Ely for the weekend. What an Effieing joke, I thought to myself.
I still hold out hope that the Fighting Sioux name can be saved. The Board of Higher Education painted itself into a corner, no doubt. If Standing Rock holds a vote and approves use of the name, what does the SBoHE do then?
How could the board not restore the name? History is ripe with land grabs and other abuses by our ancestors from the Native Americans. To not let the democratic process play out at Standing Rock and that voice be heard would add another sordid chapter.
I understand the communication between the SBoHE and the two Sioux tribes, Standing Rock in particular, has been difficult, for many reasons.
I understand UND’s rush to join the Summit League to end nightmare/costly scheduling as a Division I independent, in basketball in particular.
It doesn’t excuse a rush to judgment by the SBoHE in taking away the Fighting Sioux name until all voices are heard.
I am puzzled, too, about UND’s voices — other than that of Ralph Engelstad Arena officials — being so quiet through this process.
I have no idea where UND President Robert Kelley or athletic director Brian Faison stand on the Fighting Sioux name. You can fault the media for not pressing them on the matter, or you can fault leadership for not making their views known.
I understand, too, that the decision was taken away from UND by the SBoHE and perhaps that explains the sound of silence whispering from the offices of UND’s leaders. Yet they took away the decision, not the voices, so I am have been puzzled by this.
UND’s coaches and athletes have been eloquent in their comments about the pride and honor they feel going by the Fighting Sioux name.
None more so than women’s basketball coach Gene Roebuck, who said he’d give up a chance of Summit League membership if it meant the school could retain the nickname. That was a powerful statement by a man who understands the issues and passions as well as any in the state.
If the name does go away, we don’t need a replacement, for a long, long time. In our hearts, we’ll be Fighting Sioux forever. For UND to force another name upon its fans any time soon would alienate many who already feel the hurt of being disenfranchised.
And please don’t leave that decision in the hands of the SBoHE if it comes to that eventually. They’d probably think calling UND the “Little Bison” would sound cool. The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education has given me no reason to trust it to make an educated decision in any issue regarding the Fighting Sioux name.
All I’m asking is for the state to allow the voices of Standing Rock to be heard. If Standing Rock votes no, I can live with a name change. I would respect the wishes of the tribe.
If Standing Rock does vote and the vote is yes, I hope the SBoHE has the wisdom and fortitude to reverse itself.
Slow down, please, let democracy have its say. After all, isn’t that what our country is supposed to be all about?
Virg Foss, who wrote sports for the Grand Forks Herald for 36 years until his retirement, writes a weekly column exclusively for the Herald from October through April. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (701) 772-9272.