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Petitions to retain Fighting Sioux nickname circulating

Advocates for UND retaining its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo started circulating petitions Tuesday to force statewide votes on the issue, as they and state officials sought to clarify what may come next in the increasingly complicated saga.

Advocates for UND retaining its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo started circulating petitions Tuesday to force statewide votes on the issue, as they and state officials sought to clarify what may come next in the increasingly complicated saga.

Supporters vowed to show popular support for the save-the-nickname effort by collecting about twice as many signatures as are required by law for each of the petitions.

They also said a successful filing would derail UND's current transition away from the nickname. State officials agreed but noted that other developments -- such as a legal intervention by the State Board of Higher Education -- could prevent that.

The petition drives, one for a referred measure and the other for a constitutional amendment through an initiated measure, began immediately after North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced that he had approved the petitions for circulation.

The constitutional amendment would require UND to use the Fighting Sioux nickname. By law, supporters must collect and turn in about 27,000 petition signatures by Aug. 8 to get that proposition on the November 2012 general election ballot.


Nickname supporters also will circulate petitions seeking to refer to a vote of the people action by the November special session of the Legislature, which repealed a law adopted earlier this year requiring UND to keep the name.

The referral effort will require about 13,500 signatures filed by Feb. 7 to make the June 2012 primary election ballot. But supporters said their goal is to secure 25,000 signatures -- nearly twice as many as required -- by Jan. 31.

Pausing transition

If they succeed in filing petitions with the necessary number of signatures, the repeal of the nickname law "would go on hold," according to nickname supporters.

"The law protecting the Fighting Sioux name and logo would be back in effect, and UND would be known as the Fighting Sioux again until the June vote," according to a statement from the Spirit Lake Nation and its pro-nickname Committee for Understanding and Respect.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said, "That would appear to be what would happen. That's the way I read it."

State law provides for the suspension of a statute once qualified petitions seeking its referral have been filed if the statute did not carry an emergency clause, according to the secretary of state's office. The November repeal bill did not include an emergency clause.

Stenehjem said that he hasn't thoroughly researched the question and hasn't issued a formal opinion, but he has discussed it with other attorneys on his staff. There is not much case law on the question, he said.


Board could act

If the repeal bill is suspended and the earlier nickname law goes back into effect, "the question then is, 'What would the State Board of Higher Education do?' " Stenehjem said.

Several people argued during the legislative debates that the nickname mandate authored by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, violated the state Constitution, which grants governing authority over the state's colleges to the board.

If the requirement that UND keep the nickname goes into effect again, "the board will have to decide what if anything it wants to do," Stenehjem said.

UND is in the midst of retiring the nickname and logo with a transition that is to be substantially completed by Dec. 31, by state board directive. Board members and UND officials have expressed concern that a continuing fight over the nickname could jeopardize the university's transition to Division I athletics and its planned affiliation next year with the Big Sky Conference.

Grant Shaft, president of the state board, said on Tuesday that the board has not discussed what it might do in the event referral petitions are filed and the keep-the-nickname law is temporarily reinstated.

"There would be a lot of discussion at that point," he said. "I think the board would have two options. One, we could cease the transition and continue as the Fighting Sioux."

The other option, he said, would be to seek an injunction challenging on a constitutional basis the nickname law adopted in April. "If that were successful, we could continue the retirement (of the name and logo) pending a decision by the Supreme Court."


The board may discuss those options with Stenehjem next month, Shaft said.

Constitutional amendment

In their statement Tuesday, the nickname supporters also declared they aim to collect 45,000 signatures on their petitions for a constitutional amendment, again nearly twice the required number.

Their target date for having that many signatures is July 25.

"By placing the name in the Constitution, the matter will finally be settled as only the people could repeal such an amendment," according to the statement. "It would also provide the North Dakota Sioux at Standing Rock Nation the vote they have been denied on the issue."

While Spirit Lake voters approved UND's use of the nickname and logo in a 2009 referendum, no such vote was scheduled by the Standing Rock Tribal Council. Affirmative action by both tribes was a condition imposed in a 2007 legal settlement between the state and the NCAA, which seeks to end use of American Indian names and imagery in collegiate sports.

The two petitions and instructions on circulating them are at www.scribd.com/doc/75580743/Fighting-Sioux-Petitions-and-Instructions . The same information will be posted later to the supporters' www.SaveTheFightingSioux.com website.

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

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