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Tom Fiebiger, Published January 19 2011

Carlson’s logo legislation disrespectful and offensive

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, recently introduced a bill to prevent the retiring of the Fighting Sioux nickname. He said he did not like the way the process has been handled. I agree with him on not liking how this has been handled – by Carlson.

Carlson is quick to say he does not consider the term “Fighting Sioux” derogatory. But this is really not about whether Carlson considers the logo derogatory. This action by the House majority leader comes after years of national and state native groups opposing and protesting the perpetuation of archaic stereotypes of native people, telling us continually that they consider the Fighting Sioux logo offensive and derogatory.

While it does not surprise me that a middle-aged, white North Dakota male may not consider it derogatory, it does both surprise and disappoint me that the leader of the House majority, one of the most powerful elected positions in our state, simply does not get it.

Where was Carlson when the lawsuit was being settled and the Board of Higher Education was working on putting the logo to rest? Why didn’t he voice concerns to the attorney general and Higher Education Board over the past couple of years about the “process”? Our attorney general has expressed concerns about constitutional issues, and the Higher Education Board has likewise been blindsided by Carlson’s recent actions.

He apparently had no discussions with the attorney general or the Higher Education Board before taking this action that opens wounds and criticizes the painful and emotional process that had finally lumbered to an apparent conclusion.

That’s a troublesome “process” for a legislative leader whose actions are also now putting the Higher Education Board in an awkward position, since Carlson and the Legislature control their purse strings.

Carlson appeared on public television this week and said, depending on what happens with his bill, he may look at a constitutional amendment to keep the Fighting Sioux logo – a controversial logo that thousands in this state recognize as derogatory and offensive. A constitutional amendment ... to keep a controversial and divisive logo. Really? This has unfortunately become about power, and how it is used or misused.

It seems inappropriate on many levels for a state university that endeavors to teach and model respect for others and sensitivity to their perspectives to continue to widely and prominently display a logo and nickname that a substantial number of native folks and organizations have said, and continue to say, is offensive and demeaning.

At best, Carlson’s actions can be characterized as racially insensitive. And we wonder why young people leave or choose not to return to North Dakota?

The people of North Dakota have a right not only to expect, but demand, better from their elected leaders.

Fiebiger is a Fargo attorney and a former state senator from District 45.