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Published May 29 2011

Nelson: Replace absurdity with fact on logo issue

Now that North Dakota’s chattering class and its allies are taking a breather from bashing supporters of the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux symbols, maybe we can introduce some facts and logic.

Let’s first dismiss some of the nonsense critics of the Sioux emblems have spread. Because the Standing Rock Tribe’s elders in 1969 gave UND formal permission to use those emblems (April 17, Forum) as did the Spirit Lake tribe two years ago in a popular vote, using them isn’t an insult to the tribes. Another criticism takes a different but equally absurd tack: As a semi-autonomous entity, the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe could change its mind at any time about permitting use of the logo.

Well, we make treaties with independent nations and contract with each other constantly. Any contract can be broken at any time by any party. Therefore, we should never make contracts at all?

The NCAA threatens sanctions against UND because it sees the use of Sioux imagery as “hostile and abusive.” But the Sioux tribes’ approval of UND’s logo demonstrates that the NCAA charges were groundless from the get-go. The Spirit Lake Tribe’s approval should have satisfied the NCAA and made threats to UND unnecessary.

Good-faith negotiation demands that when a material, relevant fact appears that neither party knew of at the time of a finished contract, it’s appropriate to renegotiate. When the NCAA demanded approval from both Sioux tribes, it apparently didn’t know that the Standing Rock tribe had already acquiesced. The NCAA’s standing firm when its conditions have been met is pointless stubbornness.

There are those I term “situational linguo-nihilists” who are taking shots at the constitutionality of obliging UND to keep the Sioux emblems. These folks define whatever part of a document that undermines their position as being unintelligible, while somehow other parts of the same document as well as their own arguments are perfectly clear. E.g., education and its housekeeping details are under Article VIII of the North Dakota constitution. Section 6, paragraph (b) states that “the board of higher education shall have full authority to organize or reorganize within constitutional and statutory limitations the work of each institution ...” (Emphasis added.)

Section 5 states that all land-grant or tax-supported educational institutions “shall remain under the absolute and exclusive control of the state.”

The linguo-nihilists claim that these emphasized statements are open to fatally vague interpretations while the rest of the document isn’t. I think the statements are quite clear in their intent. I’m open to correction on this matter, but an explanation would be in order, not the mere ignoring of phrases critics don’t like.

As Standing Rock member Archie Fool Bear noted, “The NCAA now has both tribes’ approval. I don’t see what their beef is.”


Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page.