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By Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published April 22 2010

Hoeven advises consideration of any Standing Rock vote

Gov. John Hoeven has advised the chancellor of the North Dakota University System to “give due consideration to any vote by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe” regarding the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname if it occurs before Nov. 30.

In his letter to Chancellor Bill Goetz, dated Tuesday, Hoeven noted that the state Supreme Court recently affirmed the State Board of Higher Education’s “authority and responsibility to decide on the use of the logo” subject to a lawsuit and settlement agreement involving UND and the NCAA, which considers American Indian nicknames and logos hostile and abusive.

The board on April 8 directed UND to begin the transition away from the 80-year-old nickname.

“It is important, however,” the governor wrote, “that all involved in the process of deciding whether or not to retain it feel that they have been adequately heard.”

Hoeven was asked last week by nickname supporters at the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe to use his influence with higher education officials to allow the people of Standing Rock to speak to the issue. He forwarded a copy of that appeal, from the Spirit Lake Committee for Understanding and Respect, to Goetz and to Richie Smith, president of the higher education board.

Under terms of the lawsuit settlement between UND and the NCAA, the university had until Nov. 30 to win the blessing of the two namesake tribes or begin retiring the nickname and logo.

Spirit Lake voters gave their support last year, but the Standing Rock Tribal Council, citing procedural hurdles and calling such a vote a low priority, has not scheduled one despite the presentation by nickname supporters on the reservation of petitions containing more than 1,000 signatures.

Tribal officials have said they are looking into what would be required by tribal law and the Standing Rock constitution to hold a plebiscite on the nickname.

Eunice Davidson, one of the signers of the Spirit Lake appeal, said that she and others on her committee “would have liked a more forceful response” from the governor.

“But I think he responded the best he could, and we are grateful for the governor’s statement,” she said. “I believe it leaves the door open, if Standing Rock does have their vote, for the Board of Higher Education to revisit their decision.”

‘The logo is retired’

Erich Longie, a member of the Spirit Lake tribe who opposes the nickname, said the governor’s letter changes nothing.

“The logo is retired,” he said. “The Fighting Sioux nickname is retired. As far as I’m concerned, the thing is over. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

Longie said that he and other nickname opponents at Spirit Lake have collected about 300 signatures on petitions asking for another vote there.

“We don’t see the need to do that now,” he said, “but if circumstances change, we will request another vote. We believe we’ve changed some minds, and another vote will go against the nickname.”

UND President Robert Kelley said he doesn’t believe the governor’s suggestions to the board alter the university’s situation. “We’re proceeding to implement the charge from the chancellor” to begin the transition, he said.

Jody Hodgson, general manager of Ralph Engelstad Arena, said he was “encouraged” by the governor’s letter. “I support the governor’s request for the board to re-evaluate and reconsider their position,” he said.

Board reaction

Duaine Espegard, a member of the state board from Grand Forks, said the board “absolutely” would revive the nickname issue if Standing Rock votes and offers its support.

“It appears the governor agrees with what we’ve been saying,” he said. “Should they vote at Standing Rock, and it is positive (toward continued use of the nickname), we would certainly give them consideration – and beyond that, go with them.”

So far, “no progress has been made” on arranging a vote at Standing Rock, Espegard said. “But if they do vote, and they give approval and a long-term agreement, absolutely I’ll bring it back,” he said.

Hoeven’s message to Goetz was “what I anticipated the governor would say,” board member Grant Shaft, also of Grand Forks, said.

“We all agree it would be the best scenario if Standing Rock members were able to vote,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been asking for for 2½ years. And if they do vote, the board should give that due consideration.”

Charles Murphy, the Standing Rock tribal chairman, and Jesse Taken Alive, a council member who opposes UND’s use of the nickname, did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Davidson said she has talked with Archie Fool Bear, a leader of the Standing Rock petition drive seeking a vote there. “I think a thousand people, their signatures on a petition – that says a lot,” Davidson said. “So I hope they (members of the tribal council) allow them to have a vote. They should.”


Chuck Haga is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.