UND leaders seek nickname retirementGRAND FORKS — Leaders of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation plan news conferences in Grand Forks and other cities today to announce a campaign supporting a June 12 ballot measure that would allow UND to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname.
By: Chuck Haga, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — Leaders of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation plan news conferences in Grand Forks and other cities today to announce a campaign supporting a June 12 ballot measure that would allow UND to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname.
One concern driving the campaign: likely confusion over what the ballot measure would mean, due to the convoluted history of the nickname issue as it has pinballed through the State Board of Higher Education, the NCAA, the Legislature, state and federal courts and now a statewide vote.
As Measure 4 will appear on the ballot, approval would allow UND to drop the name by upholding the November repeal of a law adopted earlier requiring UND to keep the Sioux name.
Tim O’Keefe, leader of the Alumni Association, and Rick Burgum, who heads the foundation, will join local UND alumni at news conference in Grand Forks, Fargo, Bismarck and Minot.
O’Keefe, Burgum and other alumni leaders have spoken against efforts to retain the nickname, saying they fear consequences for UND’s athletics program and student athletes.
The NCAA, which in 2005 adopted a policy aimed at discouraging use of American Indian names and imagery by member schools, has placed UND on sanctions for continuing to use the Sioux name.
UND had begun to retire the name but was forced to restore it after passage of the state mandate last spring. The transition was restarted following repeal of the nickname law but halted again by the filing of petitions referring the repeal.
Today’s news conferences are to begin at 9 a.m. CDT in Fargo, with sessions at 11:30 a.m. in Bismarck, 1:30 p.m. in Minot and a final news conference at 4 p.m. at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
Milo Smith, an Alumni Association spokesman, said that Odney, a Bismarck political consulting company, will help with the campaign. A budget is developing, he said, and “we will solicit donations from alumni and anyone who wants to take part.”
Smith said UND and the State Board of Higher Education “are aware of the campaign but have not been involved in planning it.”
Reed Soderstrom, a Minot attorney who represents Spirit Lake’s Committee for Understanding and Respect and led the referendum drive, said in response to the Alumni Association’s plans that nickname supporters “expect a favorable outcome at the ballot box on June 12.”
He said the “powerful forces against keeping the Fighting Sioux name continually overplay their hand, never letting the Sioux people have any voice.”
Those seeking to retire the name have lobbied the Legislature and taken the issue to the state Supreme Court “to stop the people from voting,” he said, “and now these same folks are not patient enough to wait for the federal court decision that will possibly throw out the NCAA policy we are fighting against.”
Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson is expected to issue a decision soon on the NCAA’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe concerning its policy and how it has been applied to UND.
NCAA has spoken
The fight over the nickname has been especially difficult and emotional for UND alumni, who have found themselves on all sides of the issue. In recent months, however, leaders of the association and foundation have declared — if reluctantly — for retirement, concerned that NCAA sanctions and other consequences could harm UND’s athletics programs.
Soderstrom and other opponents have dismissed the sanctions as insignificant or speculative.
Burgum, a grain dealer from Arthur, N.D., introduced himself as “a proud graduate of UND” and chairman of the foundation board when he testified before a legislative committee considering the nickname during the November special session.
He said that UND needs to “memorialize the strong traditions” associated with the name and logo, and “in many of our hearts, the Sioux name and logo will always remain,” but that the NCAA “has spoken with finality” and people need to recognize that it’s time to stop fighting.
Burgum presented lawmakers with similar pleas from former Gov. Al Olson and former UND star and Minnesota Viking Jim Kleinsasser and his sister, Sheri Kleinsasser Stockmoe, also a former Sioux athlete.
The Legislature repealed the nickname law, but nickname supporters led by the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe launched a petition drive to “repeal the repeal,” setting the stage for the June 12 primary vote.
O’Keefe was not available to comment Monday, Smith said. In February, O’Keefe wrote to state newspapers warning that UND’s future “athletically, academically, in stature and in reputation” is at stake if nickname supporters force the university to keep it.
He said the issues and dangers “have extended themselves way beyond the sanctions imposed by the NCAA, as traditional and potential competitors “have clearly made known their absolute unwillingness to compete with UND as the Fighting Sioux. It is beyond naïve and inaccurate to suggest these facts are wrong.”
Haga is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.More from around the web