Former UND lawyer warns against continued use of Native American imagery in new logo

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Representatives from New York-based firm SME Inc. spent three days in Grand Forks learning about the community and the university they're charged with designing a new athletic logo for.

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Connor O'Flaherty, Director of brand strategy and development of SME and Jon Hans, client services manager of SME host the second public meeting seeking input for UND Fighting Hawks logo development, Thursday afternoon at the Memorial Union. Aimed primarily at campus community. (Jesse Trelstad/ Forum News Service)

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Representatives from New York-based firm SME Inc. spent three days in Grand Forks learning about the community and the university they're charged with designing a new athletic logo for.

"It should be something that is instantly recognizable, so when you go to Arizona or Florida everyone knows you're from UND," said University of North Dakota  Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Steve Light during a forum Thursday.

The school's new Fighting Hawks nickname was chosen by vote in November to replace the now-retired Fighting Sioux name.

Conor O'Flaherty, SME director of brand strategy and development, asked what the audience liked about the old Fighting Sioux logo. Many responded by stating the image represented appearance of courage, strength and pride while carrying sense of nostalgia for Sioux fans.

"Good, bad or indifferent, it engenders an awful lot of passion on a lot of different fronts," UND faculty member Sue Jeno said.


But former UND legal counsel Julie Evans, who attended the forum, suggested caution in using Native American imagery, like feathers, from the old logo, given the NCAA's agreement with the school.

The school played using an interlocking "ND" logo after the Fighting Sioux moniker was retired and Evans said there had been conversations about using the state or university seals as part of a logo at one time, but that hadn't gone forward because both include a Native American on a horse.

"We have an opportunity to be a forward-looking university now," she said.

As with the last forum, O'Flaherty discussed previous projects SME has worked on, including logos for Northern Arizona University, Miami University and the Minnesota Wild.

"What's important is we're not going to hide from the past but we're going to move into the future," he said.

About 55 people attended the forum and many said they wanted the logo to be uniquely UND while also representing the entire state. They also suggested the new logo show an inner confidence, be intimidating, a rallying symbol for both male and female athletes and serve as a unifying image for the academic and athletic sides of UND.

Ideas varied widely during discussion, with some people wanting to avoid using pink -- one of the school's official colors -- while others support embracing it. Other ideas included depicting the state's Norwegian heritage, reflecting North Dakota's winter weather and adding the state's geography.

"We have a lot we can work with and this is the first part of this process," O'Flaherty said.


The SME team will continue its research until submitting a creative brief to UND administrators March 9 before exploring developing at least five creative concepts near March 30, O'Flaherty said. The team will narrow the concepts to three by April 21 and continue developing them before narrowing it to two May 6, which will be tested on campus May 14, which coincides with spring commencement.

"We'll be very collaborative and we want to make sure in this process it's really right for the institution and fits who you are," O'Flaherty said.

The company, which will be paid no more than $49,500 for its work, plans to finalize a logo by May 27, and submit a brand standards and a usage guide May 31. It would allow UND to use the logo for the fall athletic season.

SME also is gathering feedback via a one-question online survey accessible at

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