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UND Student Senate votes to oppose legislature's efforts to save Fighting Sioux nickname

UND's Student Senate voted Sunday night to oppose efforts in the North Dakota Legislature to force the university to retain its Fighting Sioux nickname.

UND Fighting Sioux logo
UND Fighting Sioux logo

UND's Student Senate voted Sunday night to oppose efforts in the North Dakota Legislature to force the university to retain its Fighting Sioux nickname.

Three bills introduced in the state House of Representatives, all of which are to be heard in committee Wednesday, "only re-ignite the division over the 'Fighting Sioux' nickname and logo and further divides our university, the city of Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota," the resolution states.

The resolution, introduced by the student body president, vice president and seven others, passed on a vote of 10-8 with four abstentions, according to an email notice sent to students late Sunday night.

"This is in opposition to the manner (in which) these bills are written, not the Sioux logo," the notice states.

The House Education Committee has scheduled hearings starting at a 9 a.m. Wednesday on the nickname bills.


House Bill 1208, introduced by Rep. Duane DeKrey, R-Tappen, and House Bill 1257, proposed by Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, would prohibit UND and the State Board of Higher Education from retiring the nickname and logo unless the Standing Rock Sioux tribe refuses to grant permission through a tribal referendum.

House Bill 1263, introduced by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, would prohibit UND from dropping the nickname and suggests the state would take legal action if the NCAA were to punish the university for keeping it.

The NCAA five years ago threatened UND with sanctions if it did not comply with an association order aimed at eliminating American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots, which it said contributed to a "hostile and abusive" atmosphere on member institutions' campuses. The state board sued the NCAA, and a 2007 settlement gave UND and the board two years to seek authorization for continued use of the symbols from the two namesake tribes. The Spirit Lake Sioux gave its OK by a 2-1 margin in a reservation-wide vote, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribe declined to schedule a vote and instead reaffirmed earlier council pronouncements against the logo.

UND President Robert Kelley was directed by the higher education board in April 2010 to begin the transition away from the 80-year-old nickname and logo.

The Student Senate resolution notes that UND "has already begun the transition" to drop the nickname and to enter Division I athletics and the Big Sky Conference, and efforts to retain it now "could be a detriment to this process and allow teams to reject scheduling our athletic teams."

The bills unconstitutionally "restrict the authority of the State Board of Higher Education in matters of the North Dakota University System," the resolution states. Also, the state and university could face significant costs in "a prolonged legal battle with the NCAA."

Brenden Jehlicka, a senior from Minot, N.D., and a senator representing students who live off campus, was on the losing end of Sunday's vote.

He said it "seemed like a backdoor deal," as senators had little time to research the issue and talk about it with constituents.


"The student body wasn't made aware of this like they usually are," Jehlicka said.

He said that, despite the majority's explanation to students, the effect of opposing the process in the Legislature "makes them oppose the fight to bring back the nickname."

He said he regrets that "a lot of voices didn't get heard at Standing Rock. That's an injustice. We can't make them vote, but I believe democracy wasn't present there."

The student senate "in April passed a resolution saying we'd remain neutral on the nickname issue," Jehlicka said. "We didn't follow that."

The long-running dispute "is a really touchy issue," he said. "It's like the health care bill," in that any approach to it "has to be bipartisan."

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

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