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OUR OPINION: Board could ask for tribal council's help

"In an 8-6 vote Tuesday, the (Standing Rock Tribal) council decided that it wouldn't discuss the matter until the board makes a decision on the nickname."...

"In an 8-6 vote Tuesday, the (Standing Rock Tribal) council decided that it wouldn't discuss the matter until the board makes a decision on the nickname."

So began Wednesday's story by Herald staff writer Tu-Uyen Tran.

The Board of Higher Education meets today. What, if anything, might it say in response to the Standing Rock council?

Here's one option: The board could make a decision, thus taking Standing Rock up on its offer.

Suppose the board were to write the council saying something like this:

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We at the board respect the tribal council's opinion and its call for a decision on our part. In this letter, we will comply with that call as best we can.

Our decision is this: We would like to keep "The Fighting Sioux" as the nickname and logo at UND.

Obviously, that's only a partial decision. But here's the situation: According to the terms of our legal settlement with the NCAA, we cannot make a full and complete decision to keep the nickname unless we have Standing Rock and Spirit Lake tribal councils' consent. We have until November to win that consent.

So, today we would like to ask for your help.

Could the tribal council help us finalize our nickname decision by formally granting or denying its consent?

We make this request with humility and with full respect for the council and its authority. If the council votes to deny its consent, then that will be that. UND's Fighting Sioux nickname will be retired.

Likewise, if the council ignores this request and takes no action -- as the council has every right to do -- then that also will be that. The nickname will be retired in that case, too -- and rightly so, because regardless of the settlement, UND shouldn't keep its nickname in the absence of the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake tribes' consent.

Along these lines, we have one other less-pivotal but still important request, which is that the council authorize a tribal referendum on the subject of the UND nickname.

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Again, the decision to hold a referendum is entirely the council's, as is the decision to act on, ignore or reject that referendum's results.

We're making this request because in recent years, we've come to appreciate the importance of tribal members' opinions. We are late in coming to this realization. We should have sought formal approval by the tribes for UND's nickname years -- maybe decades -- ago.

But now that we're several years into the NCAA settlement, we see the wisdom of the settlement's terms and of the NCAA's insistence that sports teams with Indian nicknames have the approval of their namesake tribes.

It's right not only in a legal sense but also in a deeper sense that touches on morality and justice.

Simply put, a referendum would help answer this question, which North Dakota has asked for years: How do tribal members feel about UND's Fighting Sioux nickname?

Answering that question is important in our political system. We suspect it's also important in yours, but that's entirely for you to decide.

By forcing us to seek your formal approval for UND's nickname, the NCAA through its settlement did all of North Dakota a favor. At last, we're doing the right thing (we hope), even if it came about for some of the wrong reasons.

As you can see, tribal council and tribal members' points of view about the nickname have taken on crucial importance.

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Again, may we humbly ask the council to formally report those opinions through a referendum and/or council vote?

Thank you for your continued patience and thoughtful attention.

That's the kind of decision the board could make.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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