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Some ND Higher Ed board members don't support abandoning nickname talks

Some members of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education members said Friday they're not ready to abandon formal talks with Sioux tribal leaders about the future of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

Some members of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education members said Friday they're not ready to abandon formal talks with Sioux tribal leaders about the future of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

Board President John Paulsen said Wednesday that he plans to discuss recent statements by leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation at an upcoming board meeting. The Indian leaders said they would not drop their opposition to the nickname and logo.

While Paulsen didn't say he supported abandoning negotiations, he said tribal leaders' statements suggest a negotiation would not be fruitful.

In phone interviews Friday, three board members said they would not support calling off negotiations, arguing it was too early in the process to throw in the towel and that not meeting face to face with tribal leaders would be a disservice to nickname supporters and opponents.

"If the end result is the name is changed, I'd like to be able to look at those that supported the name and say we did what we said we'd do," said Grant Shaft, a board member from Grand Forks.


"We said at the time of the settlement that we'd appoint a delegation to explore possibilities, if there are any, and report back to us and we'd act based on that," Shaft said. "To those that supported a name change, I'd like to be able to say the very same thing."

According to terms of a settlement agreement with the NCAA, UND has three years to either win approval for its nickname and logo from the state's Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux reservations or retire both of them.

That settlement, signed in late September, ended a 13- month and -- according to a new court filing by the judge in the litigation -- $5 million legal battle between the parties.

It marked the last obstacle to a 2005 NCAA policy that effectively bans all American Indian imagery from college athletics, unless the imagery is approved by the team's namesake Indian tribe.

Earlier this month, Paulsen directed North Dakota University System Chancellor William Goetz to form a delegation, including state leaders and North Dakota's congressional delegation, to meet with tribal leaders and discuss the nickname's future.

Soon after giving that direction, Paulsen learned the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council had voted to reaffirm its 2001 resolution opposing the nickname.

On Tuesday, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Ron His Horse Is Thunder and three other tribal leaders came to the American Indian Student Services house on the UND campus and spoke in virulent opposition to the nickname.

After reading about that meeting in the newspaper, Paulsen said he had the sense that tribal leaders "strongly said there would be no change in tribal attitudes and urged the State Board of Higher Education to get about the business of telling UND to change its logo."


Nate Martindale, the board's student member who attends UND, said Friday that despite tribal leaders' opposition it's still too soon to conclude that a high-level meeting would not yield results.

"It's only been a month or two (since the settlement)," Martindale said. "We really haven't given the concept a chance. .¤.¤. Neither side has made an effort to compromise yet, and until that happens, I'm not sure this is the way to go."

Martindale said he also would not support extending negotiations for the full three years if a compromise doesn't seem possible.

"If it's been two years and things aren't looking great, then we'll make that change, but it's been so little time, this really doesn't make sense to me," he said.

Richie Smith, the board's vice president, who lives in Wahpeton, N.D., said he also opposes scrapping the delegation.

Beyond the possibility of a compromise on the nickname issue, Smith said, negotiations could lead to other forms of cooperation between the state and the tribes.

"I think we owe it to everyone involved, people who want the name and those that don't want the name, to meet," Smith said.

"The whole point of the settlement was to sit down and have some dialogue. .¤.¤. The main purpose for the delegation is to discuss the nickname, but the end result could be very positive dialogue in other areas where we have a common interest, where the university system can provide a service to the tribes."



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

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