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Nickname supporters make final push

A leader of the petition drive to restore UND's Fighting Sioux nickname through a statewide vote said Thursday that "we're in striking distance" of the 13,500 signatures needed by Tuesday's filing deadline.

Sioux petition signing
Sioux petition signing

A leader of the petition drive to restore UND's Fighting Sioux nickname through a statewide vote said Thursday that "we're in striking distance" of the 13,500 signatures needed by Tuesday's filing deadline.

Sean Johnson of Bismarck said the effort to put the nickname issue on the June 12 primary election ballot is making a final push with "petition signing events" today through Monday in Fargo, Devils Lake and Minot and at the state Capitol in Bismarck.

No such centralized effort is planned in Grand Forks, he said. "We have people working Grand Forks and they've had a lot of success there out on the streets and at hockey games.

"The center of our operations these last few days is going to be more in these other locations, and we feel confident we can reach our goal."

The referral petitions are aimed at "repealing the repeal," or overturning the law adopted during the November special legislative session that repealed an earlier law requiring UND to retain the nickname.


If petitions bearing the required number of signatures are filed by the deadline and certified by Secretary of State Al Jaeger, the November action would be suspended and the original nickname law would be back in effect until voters decide the issue in June.

Nickname supporters are also circulating petitions for an initiated measure to amend the state Constitution to declare that UND intercollegiate athletic teams shall be known as the Fighting Sioux.

That effort requires the filing of 27,000 signatures by Aug. 8 to make the November general election ballot.

'Good push'

Johnson is a member of the committee pushing the petitions on behalf of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe's Committee for Understanding and Respect.

He said his committee would have tables set up until 9 p.m. today at the food court in West Acres Mall in Fargo and from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. today, Friday and Monday at the entrance to the cafeteria in the Capitol.

Petitions will be available those days at the Pringle & Herigstad law firm in Minot and at two Devils Lake restaurants, Mr. and Mrs. J's and the Old Main Street Café.

Petitioners also will work the Pool and Dart Extravaganza at Minot's Holiday Inn Riverside Friday through Sunday.


"We want to make a good push here and we're confident we'll succeed," Johnson said. "By nature, when there's a deadline looming, that's when people take a little more interest and try to get their names on the petitions.

"This whole effort is to allow the people to vote, to choose. We'll accept the outcome either way. That's the right thing to do, the American way."

There has been no obvious active opposition to the petition drive, but many who say they wish the Fighting Sioux name could continue have voiced concern that the referral and initiative could cost UND its membership in the Big Sky Conference and otherwise damage the university's athletics program.

"There's been some of that" expressed to petition circulators, Johnson said, but nickname supporters respond that UND has been granted Big Sky membership "and they need UND more than UND needs the Big Sky."

At West Acres

Rusty Papachek, general manager at West Acres, said representatives of the petition sponsoring committee approached mall officials about a week ago, applied for a space and agreed to abide by certain conditions.

Their request was granted for today only.

"They have their table just off the food court, and they're not allowed to go out and solicit or campaign," Papachek said. "We try to protect our private property rights, and we want to treat every petition drive the same."


He said the last request for a table in the mall to collect petition signatures was made in 2008 by a man who hoped to seek public office. That request was approved, but Papachek said he didn't believe the man showed up.

The nickname supporters tried to gain access to Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks to work the crowds at UND hockey games last month against Harvard, Minnesota and Wisconsin. They were denied access inside by arena officials, an action supported by a ruling in Grand Forks County District Court.

Despite that setback, Johnson said, "We've had great success (working outside) at the hockey games at UND and, believe it or not, at the (North Dakota State University) Bison football game" in Fargo last month.

"We got between 500 and 600 signatures on each petition there," he said.

He said he's had "great success" at hockey games and other events in Bismarck, and petition circulators "were hopping at the recent Ag Expo in Minot."

No go at BSC

Johnson said the petition circulators "ran into a snafu at Bismarck State College," which cited a standing policy against such activity on campus. He said he was continuing to negotiate with the school for access.

"No policy trumps the law or the Bill of Rights," he said. "We're trying to resolve the issue with them, and in the meantime we're still going to work the public sidewalks there."


He said Capitol officials "have been very accommodating," advising the petitioners that standing policy only prohibits events that "promote or go against a political candidate."

The Committee for Understanding and Respect also is suing the NCAA over the association's policy regarding the use of American Indian names, imagery and mascots by member schools. UND had sued the NCAA over the policy as it applied to the university, but agreed in a 2007 settlement to retire the nickname if it could not obtain the blessings of namesake tribes. The Spirit Lake Sioux assented, but the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did not, and UND effectively retired the nickname and logo as of Dec. 31.

On the web: More info on the petition efforts is at www.SavetheFightingSioux.com .

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to chaga@gfherald.com .

Sioux petition signing
Sioux nickname petition signing

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