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North Dakota nickname committee criticized

FARGO (AP) -- Opponents of the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo say a committee set up to study them actually is a "logo retention committee, and a campus group has complained about lobbying by the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

One member of the committee says it should disband.

"In my opinion, the makeup of the committee and the work they're doing is close to unethical and immoral," said committee member Erich Longie, a Spirit Lake tribal member who opposes the nickname and logo.

The committee chairman says people have the wrong impression. Grant Shaft said he asked Chancellor Bill Goetz to appoint members with strong feelings on both sides of the issue. The role of the 10-member group is not to negotiate with tribes but to study the issue, Shaft said.

UND English professor Sharon Carson, representing the Campus Committee for Human Rights, said arena employees have been meeting with tribal members, and their actions are seen as subverting other efforts to resolve the nickname issue.

"The key problem right now is that (the arena) is seen by many off campus and outside of Grand Forks as representing UND and/or the state Board (of Higher Education)," Carson wrote in the letter to Chancellor Bill Goetz and UND President Robert Kelley.

Carson said the appointment of Jody Hodgson, the arena's general manager, to the committee studying the nickname and logo adds to the confusion.

Hodgson said arena employees have been communicating with tribal members about the nickname issue but are careful to represent themselves as employees of the arena.

"We certainly don't represent the University of North Dakota, nor do we have the power or the position in which to bind the University of North Dakota," Hodgson said.

Arena employees held a meeting in January at the Prairie Knights Casino on the Standing Rock reservation that was open to the tribal council and some veterans. Hodgson said the purpose was to share information about scholarship programs at UND.

Tom Iron, a former Standing Rock vice chairman who is on the nickname committee, helped with the meeting. Iron was not paid, Hodgson said.

The arena has hired Cheyenne River Sioux member Sam Dupris of Minneapolis to meet with Sioux officials in North Dakota, Hodgson said.

Goetz said Hodgson is on the committee not to represent the arena, but to represent the Engelstad Family Foundation.

"They have a direct interest in this issue," Goetz said. "All parties that have a direct interest in this issue there had to be representation."

A settlement of the lawsuit with the NCAA requires the support of the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake tribes by November 2010 if UND wants to continue using the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo without penalties.

The committee, which held its first meeting last week, plans to hold meetings on the two reservations and at UND to gather comments.