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Goetz to visit tribes

BISMARCK -- North Dakota University System Chancellor Bill Goetz will visit the elected leaders of the state's two Sioux tribes during the month of January for one-on-one conversations about the future of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

BISMARCK -- North Dakota University System Chancellor Bill Goetz will visit the elected leaders of the state's two Sioux tribes during the month of January for one-on-one conversations about the future of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

That plan won unanimous approval from the State Board of Higher Education at a meeting here Thursday. But it was clear even before the vote was cast that Goetz will have little room to negotiate.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Ron His Horse Is Thunder, one of the two leaders Goetz pledged to meet with, sent board President John Paulsen a letter Thursday morning that referenced a November tribal council vote reaffirming the tribe's opposition to the nickname.

His Horse Is Thunder, who vociferously denounced the nickname last month in a presentation on the UND campus, asked the state board in his letter to recognize the council's resolution.

The board also received letters opposing the nickname from United Tribes Technical College President David Gipp, an enrolled Standing Rock member who accompanied His Horse Is Thunder to UND last month, and Wade Schemmel, a minister with the Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ, based in Bismarck.

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In his letter, Gipp described the nickname as drawing American Indian students into "situations that range from inappropriate to uncomfortable to racially charged."

He closed his letter with: "It is my hope that you will act quickly and decisively to make constructive change happen now and not prolong the inevitable."

For his part, Goetz spoke more bluntly about the nickname's deleterious affects on campus than perhaps any system chancellor has before.

In a prepared statement to the board, he listed the negative side effects of the nickname debate, including "negative impacts on student enrollment and student perception," "a divisive environment perpetuated by positions taken on the issue," and "impact on alumni-foundation relations."

In an interview after the meeting, Goetz said he intended the statement to be blunt and to underscore the necessity of reaching a resolution to the nickname debate.

He also listed other negative effects of the ongoing controversy, including that it might impede UND from attracting good faculty.

"It makes no difference which side of the issue you're on; these facts are real," Goetz said.

Goetz's visit to the reservations marks a slight departure from a plan outlined in late September when the State Board of Higher Education signed a settlement agreement with the NCAA, ending the yearlong legal battle over the nickname and logo.

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That settlement requires UND to give up the nickname and logo in three years if it does not win approval from the leadership at Standing Rock and Spirit Lake, the state's other Sioux reservation.

The plan, outlined by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, called for a high-level delegation, including state leaders and North Dakota's congressional delegation to engage in "government-to-government" negotiations with the tribes.

Several state board members stressed Thursday that Goetz's visit should only lay the groundwork for a later meeting by a full delegation, and that language was included in the resolution.

The delegation plan has been controversial in recent months. After the Standing Rock vote and His Horse Is Thunder's UND presentation, Goetz and Paulsen both floated the idea of abandoning the delegation and simply giving up the nickname.

That plan met strong opposition from board members and some state leaders, who cautioned against rushing a decision.

Goetz and Paulsen both quickly endorsed the idea of a slow, deliberative series of meetings, and a primary message at Thursday's board meeting was that there was no need to rush the negotiating process.

Goetz said he plans to report on his meetings with His Horse Is Thunder and Spirit Lake Chairwoman Myra Pearson at a state board meeting in February. He said he will not make a final decision about who to invite to join a delegation to the reservations until after visiting tribal leaders.

Gov. John Hoeven has said he will participate in the delegation and has said members of the state's congressional delegation have told him they will do so as well.

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Goetz said he hasn't yet contacted His Horse Is Thunder or Pearson to arrange meetings, but said he worked with both leaders before in his previous job as Hoeven's Chief of Staff.

He said that existing relationship may help him when he visits.

"It's not like we haven't talked before," he said.

The Grand Forks Herald and the Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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