Another fight on the Fighting Sioux

Another chapter in the long and bitter struggle over UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo began in the North Dakota House of Representatives Monday, as the chamber's Republican leader said he will introduce a bill to write the controversial sym...

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo
House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo

Another chapter in the long and bitter struggle over UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo began in the North Dakota House of Representatives Monday, as the chamber's Republican leader said he will introduce a bill to write the controversial symbols into state law.

"People want to keep the logo," Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said.

Carlson's proposal would give state sanction to intercollegiate athletic teams sponsored by UND calling themselves the Fighting Sioux, and neither UND nor the State Board of Higher Education "may take any action to discontinue the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname or the Fighting Sioux logo in use on Jan. 1, 2011."

Also, the bill would provide that any actions taken previously by UND or the board to discontinue use of the nickname and logo "are preempted by this act." If the NCAA were to penalize UND for using the symbols, the attorney general "shall consider filing a federal antitrust claim against that association."

A second bill draft circulating Monday, prepared for Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, a former speaker of the House, would prohibit UND from retiring the nickname and logo unless the State Board receives written notice from leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Spirit Lake Tribe "indicating the members of each tribe have voted in a tribal referendum to revoke the permission granted to the university to use the nickname and logo."


Monson's draft also would "prohibit the use of state funds to influence any tribal referendum election held to consider the issue of revoking permission" to use the symbols.

UND is in the midst of a yearlong process to retire the 80-year-old nickname, complying with an April 2010 directive from William Goetz, chancellor of the North Dakota University System.

Goetz was told to give UND President Robert Kelley the nickname retirement order by the State Board of Higher Education after efforts to arrange a referendum on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation failed.

Under terms of a 2007 lawsuit settlement with the NCAA, which opposes uses of Native American names and logos by athletic teams of member schools, UND could retain the Fighting Sioux name if it received authorization from the two namesake tribes. Voters on the Spirit Lake reservation gave their OK by a 2-1 margin in April 2009, but repeated efforts by logo supporters to arrange a vote at Standing Rock failed. Some pointed, however, to a ceremony in the 1960s when several tribal elders formally sanctioned UND's use of the name.

However, the Standing Rock Tribal Council ultimately reaffirmed several more recent council decisions opposing the nickname and declared the matter closed.

UND 'continuing to comply' with order on transition

Carlson said that he and other lawmakers had been sounding out colleagues about support for a state law fixing the UND nickname as the Fighting Sioux. Mandan Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch and Tioga Rep. Bob Skarphol were listed as co-sponsors on Carlson's draft. No hearing date had been set by late Monday. Carlson said he did not discuss his proposal with UND or Board of Higher Education officials, but he said he expects a favorable reception from legislators and the public.

Kelley was not immediately available for comment, but an aide said the university "is continuing to comply with the April 2010 directive of Chancellor Bill Goetz to move through the process of transitioning away from the current nickname and logo."


As part of UND's transition away from the nickname, a task group formed to advise Kelley on such issues as non-athletic uses of the name and logo was expected to recommend a broad retirement when it convenes its next meeting Tuesday.

Jeanotte: 'Thought this was settled'

Leigh Jeanotte, director of American Indian Student Services at UND, said he was disappointed by the prospect of another round of debate on the issue.

"It's really sad, from my point of view, that this issue I thought was settled is continuing," he said.

"It's probably another last-ditch effort to try to keep the name. But they probably don't have a whole lot of information about how this name does a lot of harmful things to native people. I'm sure if they took the time to educate themselves, they'd have a different point of view."

Eunice Davidson, a leader of nickname supporters at Spirit Lake, said that she heard Monday from several other members of the tribe about the possible legislative action.

"They're really thrilled at the prospect, and so am I," she said.

"I hope they do it and ... finally show some respect for us at Spirit Lake and Standing Rock" who feel honored by the name. "But I have had my hopes built up before, only to be spit in the face by the State Board and the administration at UND."


Carlson said he wouldn't be acting as a UND booster.

"I'm a Bison," the NDSU graduate said, laughing.

"But there's a lot of people in this chamber who believe the process the State Board used to get rid of it wasn't good," Carlson said. "People aren't happy that a vote wasn't taken" at Standing Rock.

The NCAA and other opponents of American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots have said such symbols feed stereotypes and create a "hostile and abusive" atmosphere on campus.

UND and state officials heatedly disputed that, citing the university's large Native American enrollment and scores of academic and professional programs designed for Indians. But many Native American students and faculty members agreed with the NCAA's characterization and lobbied against the nickname's retention.

"If you surveyed the state, you would find that most people don't find that name derogatory," Carlson said.

But "it was the process they used" to retire the name that especially offended people, he said. "It's all of a sudden gone, and a lot of people don't like it."

Standing Rock 'had opportunities'


Grant Shaft, a Grand Forks attorney and member of the State Board, said he hopes legislators "will make an effort ... to know the process we did go through" before acting on any nickname legislation.

He said the board "availed Standing Rock of every opportunity over the three-year period (since the lawsuit settlement) to vote, and in the end they did not. The board doesn't have any authority to force a vote at Standing Rock. They control their own process."

Shaft noted that he and the other board members favored retention of the nickname.

"We did everything we could, because as a board we wanted the name and logo to continue," he said. "But at the end of the day, it could not be accomplished."

Carlson said he did not anticipate any nickname bill carrying an appropriation. He was not aware of any comparable movement Monday in the Senate.

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

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