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Published July 10 2011

Nelson: UND can stand up, fight lies

When we examine the furor over University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux logo and nickname, we must start with and remember one thing: The NCAA’s stance against the emblems is palpably, tangibly, demonstrably wrong. All else should flow from this initial datum.

The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe voted heavily in favor of UND keeping the symbols. This alone gives the lie to the NCAA’s accusation that the Fighting Sioux logo is “hostile and abusive,” unless the NCAA is saying that this Sioux tribe is hostile and abusive to itself. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s elders formally permitted the same use of the same symbols decades ago: Were they also being “hostile and abusive” to themselves?

Thus, the letter writers are wrong – inexplicably so, given the front-page coverage of these events – that the logo is a racist attack on a disapproving minority. Thus, UND President Robert Kelley, who has complained of other university presidents asking him about what’s going on, and Dr. Donald Beard (Forum column) who’s concerned about others peering at him over their breakfasts with accusations of racism at UND, need not cower but instead calmly refute the nonsense. But with friends of UND like these, who needs the NCAA?

What if Kelley and others fought back? What if they campaigned to inform the world?

UND’s alumni have largely knuckled under to the NCAA, and of course the chattering class was ecstatic from the beginning to oust the Fighting Sioux symbols. For the latter, it boils down mostly to sports and money. Some argue that UND will be as fine an institution after the nickname change as before, so what’s the problem?

Let’s run with that idea: UND would be as solid academically in, say, the NAIA as it is now in the NCAA, and isn’t learning the main purpose of a university? Maybe not, given that the sports tail wags the academic dog.

Now, UND can stand up and fight the lies and take the consequences, which might be lighter than the doomsday prophets predict, or it can cringe like a beaten dog in the NCAA’s leash and salve its conscience with money and sports glory.

It’s farce to hold up the NCAA as an example in this matter. It allows the Florida State Seminoles and Utah Utes to keep their logos because their respective namesake tribes OK’d it. Haven’t the North Dakota Sioux tribes done the same? Meanwhile the NCAA forced Arkansas State to give up its nickname “Indians” as abusive and hostile, while being headquartered in Indianapolis. The stench you smell is that of ripe hypocrisy.

UND is authorized to use the Sioux logo. The NCAA is wrong. These are the foundation of the controversy, if truth and right mean anything to North Dakotans.


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