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N.D. Supreme Court hearing on Sioux nickname is today

A state Supreme Court hearing that's been holding up a decision to end the use of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname is scheduled for today. The court will decide whether the district court in Devils Lake decided correctly when it ruled against nickna...

A state Supreme Court hearing that's been holding up a decision to end the use of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname is scheduled for today.

The court will decide whether the district court in Devils Lake decided correctly when it ruled against nickname supporters from the Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation. The plaintiffs had filed suit to block what they consider an illegal early retirement of the nickname by the State Board of Higher Education.

The board had indicated it favored early retirement last fall, but the lawsuit and the temporary restraining order it triggered forced the board to pause. After the judge ruled in favor of the board, the board still took no action because the plaintiffs had appealed to the Supreme Court.

Thrown into this mix is the potential for the nickname to go on the ballot at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Nickname supporters there turned in a petition with 1,004 signatures, a significant number considering about 1,900 voted in the last tribal election.

The main reason board members favored retiring the nickname was they weren't seeing any movement toward such a ballot measure at Standing Rock.

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UND needs the blessings of both the state's Sioux tribes to keep the nickname, as stipulated in the settlement between the state and the NCAA, which considers American Indian nicknames offensive.

The settlement sets a deadline of Nov. 30, 2010, but the board had set its own deadline of Oct. 31, 2009.

Around that time, Spirit Lake nickname supporters filed suit to buy time for their compatriots at Standing Rock.

They argued that the board was unfairly changing the deadline and making it harder to win support for the nickname. As tribal members, they said they are beneficiaries of the settlement and, losing the nickname, would hurt their tribe's ability to spread knowledge of its culture.

The state argued successfully that the nickname decision belongs to the state board alone and the settlement doesn't make any promises to individual tribal members.

The board had moved the deadline ahead because UND said it needed to apply as soon as possible to join the Summit League athletic conference, which has said it would not accept an application until the nickname issue is settled.

The nickname issue remains unsettled and, earlier this year, UND President Robert Kelley announced that it was too late for the university to apply and hope to get on the 2010-2011 athletic conference schedule. Nevertheless, he reiterated that it's important to apply as soon as possible because there are only so many slots in the conference and there surely are other universities interested.

The board will convene again April 8-9 at Mayville State University and possibly again April 22. If the Supreme Court issues a decision before then, it'll free the board to retire the nickname.

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It's possible the Standing Rock petition could sway the board, but, then, the question is would nickname supporters be able to get tribal council approval for a ballot measure by April 8.

The council is scheduled to meet early in April, but no date has been set.

It's also possible, of course, that the Supreme Court could overturn the lower court's decision, forcing the board to abide by the Nov. 30, 2010, deadline.

Related Topics: UND NICKNAMEUND SPORTS
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