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Published August 28 2011

Nelson: UND logo fight ends in disgrace

So the last hurrah has been heard for the University of North Dakota’s Sioux logo and nickname. The future legislative vote to give power over the logo to North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education is but a formality. We fought the NCAA, the not-so-chagrined educrats and talking heads lament, and the NCAA won.

What a disgrace. We can conclude a few things before this chapter is closed. We’ve just been stooge-slapped by an organization whose leaders lack either the wit or the courage to defend its decisions.

Assume, for risibility’s sake, that the NCAA was sincere in its crusade against the use of American Indian names. Its purpose was to ensure that member schools had proper permission from the relevant Indian tribes to use their likenesses and names.

When the NCAA discovered that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe had already approved UND’s use of the Sioux name and likeness decades before its agreement with North Dakota (combined with the later Spirit Lake tribe’s affirmative vote), the proper reaction should have been: “Our mistake. Now that we know that both tribes have given permission to UND, we won’t sweat the 2007 agreement with North Dakota because our central criterion was met after all: getting permission.”

It seems to me to be disrespectful on the part of those Sioux who degrade the Standing Rock tribal agreement with UND in 1969. Isn’t that kind of agreement-breaking reminiscent of how the white man regarded his treaties with the American Indian to begin with? Perhaps turnabout is fair play, but surely the Sioux would want to follow a higher standard than that of the original whites who treated with their ancestors. And spare us the spectacle of the six UND students suing everyone in sight at UND for anti-Indian racism. They would have gone to North Dakota State University if UND were that bad.

I’ve queried the NCAA’s president and vice president as to how they justify stripping “Indians” from Arkansas State while being headquartered in a city and state that contain “Indian” as the root word. No answer. And why should they? Does a man have to justify his act to the ants he steps on? No wonder the North Dakota delegation to the NCAA failed. The latter held the whip hand: Knowing that the delegates had no serious Plan B – such as telling the NCAA to take a long walk on a short pier – all the NCAA had to do was let the delegation turn blue in the face, and then simply say “no.” Poof.

UND’s alumni were properly indignant at the start of all this. But, like alumnus Jim Kleinsasser, they just whimpered out at the end. To the majority Sioux who voted for UND’s logo, remember: The NCAA has called you “hostile and abusive” to your tribes.


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