Legislature may get into Fighting Sioux nickname debateSeveral members of the North Dakota House of Representatives — including Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo — are contemplating introducing a bill to require that UND retain its Fighting Sioux nickname.
By: Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co.
Several members of the North Dakota House of Representatives — including Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo — are contemplating introducing a bill to require that UND retain its Fighting Sioux nickname.
“Nothing has been introduced yet, but there’s a pretty good chance something will be,” Carlson said today.
“People want to keep the logo,” he said.
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 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.
The Standing Rock Tribal Council ultimately reaffirmed earlier council decisions opposing the nickname and declared the matter closed.
Carlson said that he and other lawmakers were sounding out colleagues about support for a state law fixing the UND nickname as the Fighting Sioux, but no bill had been introduced as of this morning.
“There are several versions out there by various legislators,” he said. “But I’m assigning the bills to committees, and I haven’t seen it yet. It could be this afternoon.”
Kelley was not immediately available for comment on the prospect of the controversial nickname issue being revived at the Legislature.
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, despite petitions signed by more than 1,000 people asking for a referendum.
The NCAA and other opponents of American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots have said they feed stereotypes and create a “hostile and abusive” atmosphere on campus. UND and state officials 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.
“It was the process they used” to retire the name that has offended people, he said. “It’s all of a sudden gone, and a lot of people don’t like it.”
His bill “would be for a law that says what the name is going to be — we would put the nickname in the statute,” he said. “There are others who are more passionate about this than I am. But I believe it may be worthy of a discussion.”
Carlson said he did not anticipate any nickname bill carrying an appropriation.
He said he was not aware of any comparable movement in the Senate.
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 is expected to recommend a broad retirement when it convenes its next meeting Tuesday.
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 today 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.”
Haga is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.