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By Tu-Uyen Tran , Published March 13 2009

Group: Enough signatures for vote on University of North Dakota nickname

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Spirit Lake supporters of UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname say they have gathered enough signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot during the tribe’s general election in May.

Eunice Davidson, one of the supporters, said Thursday she alone has gathered 226 signatures and there are 11 other volunteers who have also gathered signatures.

The number needed, she said, is 160, which is 20 percent of the 799 votes cast in the last general election in 2007.

The conversations she’s had with those who signed the petition appear to reflect a survey her group conducted two years ago that indicated massive support for the nickname, Davidson said.

Erich Longie, a prominent nickname opponent at Spirit Lake, said Thursday that if he and his volunteers could talk to voters who want to keep the nickname and present the facts to them, they would change their minds.

If Spirit Lake voters offered their support for the nickname, it would bolster the effort for UND to keep the controversial nickname.

A legal settlement with the NCAA says the university must win support from both of the Sioux tribes in the state, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, for the nickname. If not, UND would have to change the nickname by Aug. 15, 2011.

There has been no public discussion of a nickname referendum at Standing Rock, but nickname supporters are at work. Tribal leaders there have been adamant in their opposition.

Some members couldn’t make it when the group met Thursday, Davidson said, so they will all submit signatures to the Tribal Council today, the last day to get on the May ballot.

The election board would have five days to verify that those signatures are legitimate, she said.

Longie has his own petition out, but he said he doesn’t have a deadline because he’s appealing directly to the Tribal Council.

He’s asking the council to rescind a 2000 resolution that says the council supports the nickname only if something positive comes out of it.

Longie said he feels nothing has and appears to be fighting an uphill battle.

Davidson said only one person she asked to sign the petition refused, where most asked if she was trying to get rid of the nickname before signing it; they wouldn’t sign if she was a nickname opponent.

In fact, she said, some said they normally do not vote in tribal elections but would do so to support the nickname.

All of this is taking place as a committee assembled by the State Board of Higher Education prepares to meet with the two tribes to gauge tribal members’ opinions about the nickname.

In all likelihood, the meeting would take place before the May election, he said.

The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are owned by Forum Communications.