Tribal college heads bow out of Beyond Beads and Feathers photo shootGRAND FORKS — A planned photo shoot of current and former tribal college presidents for UND’s Beyond Beads and Feathers poster campaign won’t take place, a UND vice president said, after about one-third of the participants bowed out because of their opposition to the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname.
By: Joseph Marks, Grand Forks Herald
GRAND FORKS — A planned photo shoot of current and former tribal college presidents for UND’s Beyond Beads and Feathers poster campaign won’t take place, a UND vice president said, after about one-third of the participants bowed out because of their opposition to the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname.
The first round of the Beyond Beads and Feathers campaign began about two years ago with posters of nine American Indian UND graduates who’ve gone on to successful careers. Posters of those nine were distributed to reservation high schools and tribal colleges and displayed in the American Indian Student Services house on campus, said Bob Boyd, UND vice president for student and outreach services.
The idea behind the posters, Boyd said, was to show the accomplishments of the school’s American Indian graduates and to be a recruiting tool to bring more students from tribal high schools to UND, and to show them how far a college career could take them.
As part of a second round of the poster campaigns, UND had planned to send a photographer to the American Indian Higher Education Conference in Bismarck on Monday, to take a group photo of the 14 UND graduates who are past or present tribal college presidents.
Five of those presidents, however, declined to take part in the photo shoot, citing UND’s continued use of the Fighting Sioux nickname, including presidents of three of the five tribal colleges in North Dakota.
Boyd described the group photo shoot as delayed rather than canceled and said he hopes the school can do it sometime in the future when tribal college administrators are willing to participate.
“I respect their right to make the decision they’ve made,” Boyd said. “These are all people for whom I have a great deal of respect. (The photo shoot) is something that would have a great deal of impact on Native American students as they think about their own university careers and the kinds of things they can accomplish. These are people who have worked very hard to get to the point they’re at.”
When asked if the photo shoot could only happen if and when the controversial nickname is retired, Boyd said that would be up to the administrators themselves.
“The nickname is a complicating factor for many of our Native American students and graduates,” he said. “And while they don’t agree universally on the issue, it’s clear that it remains divisive. Of course, we’re always sorry and disappointed when circumstance arise such that it casts a shadow over an initiative that has the very best of intentions and is extremely worthwhile.”
The school still plans to do a second round of the poster campaign with solo portraits of several American Indian UND grads, Boyd said, but that group will not include any of the tribal college administrators. The school hopes to unveil those posters during its 2008 homecoming celebrations, he said.
United Tribes Technical College President David Gipp was one of the tribal college presidents who declined to participate in the photo shoot.
In an e-mail Monday to AISS director Leigh Jeanotte, Gipp praised UND’s programs for American Indians, but called the nickname “incessantly and increasingly a topic of dissension among the various communities — tribal and nontribal.”
Gipp charged that the university and the state acted disrespectfully by making tribal approval the sole condition for whether UND can retain its nickname in an October legal settlement with the NCAA despite the tribes’ stated opposition. That settlement, the result of a yearlong and multimillion-dollar legal challenge to the NCAA’s 2005 policy banning most American Indian nicknames, requires the school to retire its nickname in three years if it cannot win the support of both the state’s Sioux tribes.
That outcome looks unlikely based on strong resistance of some leaders at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. North Dakota University System Chancellor William Goetz has downplayed the chance of the nickname being saved by a tribal vote of support, suggesting a vote always could be reversed in the future.
Gipp was in Washington on Wednesday and unable to speak with the Herald by phone. In a statement made through Dennis Neumann, UTTC’s public information director, Gipp said the nickname “continues to corrode the relationship that we have had with UND, and gives rise to thoughts about how university and state leaders have abused the relationship and good will of American Indians.”
The other tribal college leaders who declined to participate in the photo shoot were Cynthia Lindquist Mala, president of Cankdeska Cikana tribal college in Fort Totten, N.D.; Laurel Vermillion, president of Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, N.D.; Donald Day, president of Fond du Lac tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minn.; and Elizabeth Yellow Bird, former president of Fort Berthold (N.D.) tribal college. Yellowbird is the sister of Herald columnist Dorreen Yellow Bird.
Gipp also was featured in the first round of the poster campaign. He has not asked for that picture to be removed from the school’s Web site, Jeanotte said.
There was some concern from Gipp and others during the first round of the photo campaign, that it would undermine their nickname opposition, Jeanotte said, but that was overcome.
“I tried to assure them (during the first campaign) that this was a reflection of our American Indian programs and had nothing to do with the nickname,” Jeanotte said. “I tried to do that again this time, but the nickname issue is so prevalent in everyone’s minds at this point. ...It’s quite concerning to me that the name issue has taken its toll on a very worthy project. This is a project that would really bolster the image of American Indian programs here at UND.”
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