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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published November 30 2010

Spirit Lake members make last-minute appeal to save Sioux nickname

GRAND FORKS – Members of the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation who favor the University of North Dakota retaining the Fighting Sioux nickname made a last-minute appeal Monday to the NCAA, asking that the association “re-examine” the 2007 legal settlement that imposed a deadline for the university to obtain tribal permission to continue using the name.

The deadline stipulated in the settlement is today, though it would appear action taken April 8 by the State Board of Higher Education and subsequently by UND to retire the nickname rendered the NCAA deadline moot.

While the university’s athletic teams continue to use the 80-year-old nickname this academic year, UND has formed committees tasked with finding ways to honor the name as it is retired and to plan for the possible selection of a replacement. Also, a timeline has been set for the ending of licensing agreements concerning Fighting Sioux merchandise.

In a letter e-mailed to NCAA President Mark Emmert, Eunice Davidson and nine other Spirit Lake members said “the vast majority of all people across our state feel great pride and honor” in UND’s use of the Fighting Sioux name and logo, “especially the traditional Sioux elders.”

The writers noted again that Spirit Lake members authorized UND’s use of the name by a nearly 3-to-1 margin in a 2009 vote, a position subsequently affirmed by the Tribal Council.

“You intentionally desired the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to have input in this matter,” Davidson and the others wrote, “and it must have been your intent to allow the Sioux Nation of Standing Rock the right to a democratically held election.”

After the State Board acted in April, Davidson and others at Spirit Lake urged Gov. John Hoeven to intervene and “correct this wrong.” Hoeven responded by advising the chancellor of the North Dakota University System to “give due consideration to any vote by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”

However, efforts by nickname supporters at Standing Rock to arrange a vote there – including presentation of petitions containing more than 1,000 signatures – did not lead to a popular vote.

In June, the Standing Rock Tribal Council voted to stand by an earlier council decision to oppose continued use of the nickname. At the same time, the council declared “there is no need to talk about it anymore.”

Davidson said Monday night that she and the others “waited for so long (before appealing to the NCAA) out of respect for the people at Standing Rock,” and she said they “are hoping there’s still a chance” to preserve the nickname.

“At least, we want our voices at Spirit Lake to be heard,” she said.

She said the letter was e-mailed to NCAA officials, with a hard copy sent via overnight mail.

There was no immediate response from the NCAA.

Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald