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Standing Rock leaders to UND: Sioux nickname 'part of who we were, not who we are'

The term "Fighting Sioux," represents only a "slice" of what the Lakota and Dakota people were, and it must be changed, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said today in Grand Forks.

The term "Fighting Sioux," represents only a "slice" of what the Lakota and Dakota people were, and it must be changed, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said today in Grand Forks.

"It's part of who we were, not who we are," Ron His Horse Is Thunder said during a two-hour news conference at UND's American Indian Center.

He and three other leaders of the Standing Rock Nation, in southern North Dakota and northern South Dakota, were invited to UND by campus Indian leaders to talk about their concerns about the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

Tribal Vice Chairwoman Avis Little Eagle, former Chairman Jesse Taken Alive and United Tribes Technical College President David Gipp, who is a member of the Standing Rock Nation, also spoke of their opposition to the nickname and logo in what was described as "not a debate" by organizers.

The reason for the public forum was last month's court settlement in which the NCAA granted UND three years to convince two Sioux tribes in the state to support the nickname and logo.


His Horse Is Thunder said he travels worldwide and runs into stereotypes all the time, such as "Do you still live in teepees?" The UND nickname and logo "perpetuates that stereotypical image," he said. "It's just a part of who we were and doesn't give them the encompassing image of who we are."

Indians include physicians and lawyers who are contributing to American life and are not simply historical artifacts clad in "buckskins and headdresses. . . . fighting the cavalry," he said.

"If that's all we wanted to be, we would wouldn't come here to UND," His Horse Is Thunder said. "We come to expand our horizons . . . to become part of the modern world."

UND President Charles Kupchella could not attend the news conference because of a scheduling conflict, he said. But he arrived to have lunch with the four leaders of the Standing Rock Nation and to talk with them this afternoon.

Early in his tenure at UND, Kupchella proposed considering a change to the name, but was hauled up short when UND benefactor, the late Ralph Engelstad, threatened to stop construction of the new hockey arena.

Questioned today about it, Kupchella pointed out that it was the state Board of Higher Education that must rule on the nickname and logo, since the Board had taken the decision out of UND's hands several years ago.

And his time at UND now is "measured in months," Kupchella told the Herald before meeting with the tribal leaders.

Asked if the idea of changing UND's nickname is viable, Kupchella said, "Anything's possible."


But his plan today was to listen.

"What I'm looking for is a discussion how to structure some kind of dialogue and that is where we are," Kupchella said.

There are about 400 American Indian students at UND, and 20 to 25 percent of them are Sioux, said Leigh Jeanotte, director of the American Indian Center.

Gipp said when he attended UND from 1965-69, there were about 40 American Indian students on campus. He loved attending UND hockey games in the old barn and would rather still go there than to the new Ralph Engelstad Arena, which he called "that $100 million monstrosity sitting across campus."

He "went along" with the nickname and logo until deciding in 1994 it had to be changed, Gipp said.

"We will bring North Dakota into the 21st century, kicking and screaming, but we will do it," Gipp said, winning applause from the audience of about 50 people.

His Horse Is Thunder suggested a replacement nickname the Rough Riders that he said would honor all North Dakotans, represent the courage of Teddy Roosevelt and offend no one.

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