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HIGHER EDUCATION: University system chancellor meets with top Sioux leader

North Dakota's top-ranking higher education official met late last week with, perhaps, the state's most influential Sioux leader to discuss the controversy over UND's Fighting Sioux nickname.

North Dakota's top-ranking higher education official met late last week with, perhaps, the state's most influential Sioux leader to discuss the controversy over UND's Fighting Sioux nickname.

An administrative assistant for Standing Rock reservation Chairman Ron His Horse Is Thunder said the chairman met Friday with North Dakota University System Chancellor Bill Goetz but did not disclose details of the meeting.

A negotiated settlement in a yearlong and multimillion dollar legal battle between UND and the NCAA requires the school gain the sanction of both the state's Sioux tribes for its nickname and Indian head logo or retire them within three years.

His Horse Is Thunder and several other members of the tribal council have been staunch in their opposition to the Sioux nickname, most recently by renewing the council's resolution opposing the nickname after the legal settlement with the NCAA was announced in October.

Goetz pledged late last year to meet with leaders at Standing Rock and Spirit Lake, North Dakota's other Sioux reservation, to discuss the nickname's future. He said those meetings would be completed before a State Board of Higher Education meeting scheduled Thursday in Mayville, N.D., and that he would report back to the board at that meeting.

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A spokeswoman for the university system, Debra Anderson, said in a phone message Tuesday that "any information about the chancellor meeting with tribal chairs will first be provided to the (state board) at its meeting Thursday."

Anderson went on to say that the meetings are private, and the chancellor is "asking the media to be understanding of the process involved."

An agenda of that meeting includes 20 minutes for Goetz to brief board members on his visits.

It is not clear whether Goetz has or will meet with Spirit Lake leaders. A spokeswoman at that reservation said the entire council was at Fort Yates, N.D., on the Standing Rock reservation Tuesday, but said she did not know if council members had planned to meet with Goetz during the trip.

Council members will remain in Fort Yates today and travel to Bismarck on Thursday, she said.

Spirit Lake leaders consistently have been more flexible on the nickname issue than their Standing Rock counterparts. A 2000 council resolution states the tribe will not oppose the nickname provided "something positive" grows out of the issue."

The NCAA deemed that resolution insufficient to grant UND a namesake tribe exception to the association's rule banning American Indian nicknames, and the tribe did not respond to NCAA requests for clarification.

After several years of near total silence on the issue, Spirit Lake council members indicated earlier this month they may be close to drafting a new nickname resolution.

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Several council members said they'd support polling reservation residents about their opinions on the nickname, either in a referendum vote or in a less formal way at reservation district meetings. Those polls then would guide a council vote on a resolution supporting or opposing the nickname.

Marks reports on higher education. Reach him at (701) 780-1105, (800) 477-6572, ext. 105, or jmarks@gfherald.com .

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