The final chapter is being written on the legal controversy over the Fighting Sioux nickname.
North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education voted 8-0 last month to require the state’s flagship school, University of North Dakota, to cease using the Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian head logo.
The Board did leave the door open a crack for UND, allowing it to preserve its use of the nickname and logo if, by Oct. 1, 2009, it could get the state’s Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes to agree to give it permission to use them for at least 30 years. Most suggest, however, that that possibility is remote.
The controversy at UND as well as other college and professional sports teams around the country simmered for the better part of a decade, as the general public and Native Americans grappled with the use of the imagery and words and whether they were derogatory.
The board’s decision was likely influenced by UND’s probable application to join the Summit League, an 11-member NCAA Division I conference, which is seeking a 12th school. Tom Douple, the Summit League’s commissioner, has told the media that UND would not be considered for membership as long as the nickname dispute persisted.
The decision will also satisfy the parameters of a legal settlement between the NCAA and the school, which requires the school to discontinue use of the name and logo by the fall of 2010 if it could not get approval of the tribes to continue using imagery. The origins of the dispute between the NCAA and the school got their start in 2005 when the NCAA declared the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo “hostile and abusive” and barred the school from hosting NCAA tournaments until it quit using it. This led the Board of Higher Education to sue the NCAA, arguing the association did not follow its own rules in issuing its edict. This led to the aforementioned settlement agreement.
UND President Robert Kelley seemed to treat the decision to stop using the nickname and marks as a forgone in a letter to the “campus community” following the vote:
“We are mindful that there is a nearly 80-year tradition with our nickname and related logos. We honor that tradition, which has brought us national honor and distinction, as well as national championships and an outstanding record of student athletes as scholars. I want to be clear that I believe our athletes and our athletic teams — athletic directors, coaches and related staff — have used the nickname and logo with great honor and respect, and with a tremendous sense of pride.
“Many alumni and fans have been staunch supporters of our athletic programs, and many have been proud of the nickname and logo. Among those was Ralph Engelstad, a former UND hockey goalie, who, with his wife, Betty, made many gifts to UND and built a magnificent arena that bears his name. We appreciate their legacy of generous support, which continues through The Engelstad Family Foundation and the management team of the Ralph Engelstad Arena.”