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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published November 03 2009

Sioux nickname change likely with tribal stand

BISMARCK – The Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s rejection of a deadline for resolving a dispute over the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname makes it more likely the moniker will be changed, members of the state Board of Higher Education said Monday.

“We impose deadlines because UND has to know,” said Richie Smith, the board’s president. “There has to be a decision on this before the school can move forward in any number of areas.”

Smith and board member Grant Shaft, who has played a leading role in attempting to resolve the nickname dispute, said Monday it is more likely UND will adopt a new nickname if the tribe declines to be hurried into an agreement to allow its continued use.

“Some of the board members are getting issue fatigue on this,” Shaft said. “I think it would be fair to say that some of the board members were really looking at the end of November as being a drop-dead date. ... We have been dealing with this since May.”

As part of a lawsuit settlement with the NCAA over what the organization regarded as UND’s “hostile and abusive” nickname and Indian head logo, the university agreed to discard both unless it obtained consent from North Dakota’s Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes by Nov. 30, 2010.

The Board of Higher Education wants to resolve the issue by month’s end, and is asking both tribes for a 30-year agreement that would allow continued use of the nickname and logo.

Neither tribe has approved a 30-year accord, although the Spirit Lake tribal council has approved a resolution backing UND’s “perpetual” use of the nickname and logo. Nickname opponents say the resolution can be changed, and Smith, who is an attorney, said he did not regard it as an enforceable agreement.

Charles Murphy, who was elected in September as the new Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman, wrote a letter last week to William Goetz, chancellor of the state university system, saying the tribe’s governing council was willing to discuss the issue “without deadlines and other stipulations.”

Murphy, who himself is a former member of the state Board of Higher Education, said the tribe recognized the urgency of the issue to the board and UND.

“However, we believe further dialogue is necessary and, to be quite honest, this issue is not at the top of the new administration’s list of priority matters,” his letter said. Murphy could not be reached for elaboration.

Both Shaft and Smith said the letter was ambiguous, with Shaft adding that he viewed it as an invitation to continued talks.

The issue will be debated at the board’s scheduled Nov. 19 meeting in Minot and may also be discussed at a tribal council meeting before then, he said.

“I think (Murphy) maybe is looking at different approaches,” Shaft said. However, his letter “doesn’t give you any concrete idea” that the issue will be resolved by Nov. 30, Shaft said.

“For that reason alone, it would seem more likely” that the Board of Higher Education would not extend its Nov. 30 deadline for resolving the nickname and logo issue, Shaft said.

Smith said the letter “told us they don’t like us setting deadlines and they don’t like us proposing a written agreement.”

“We feel that if we’re going to make an agreement, that it be in writing, and be enforceable, so that we know we have something,” Smith said. “So then, we’re not back here a year from now, talking about the same issues.”

University officials want the issue resolved so that UND, which is moving from the NCAA’s Division II to Division I-AA for most sports, may apply for membership in the Summit League, an athletics conference made up partly of former rivals in the now-defunct North Central Conference.

North Dakota State University and South Dakota State University are already Summit League members, and the University of South Dakota is joining in July 2011.

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