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Published October 22 2011

Nelson: Big money drives UND logo affair

What a bizarre pass the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname fight has come to: A wide majority of North Dakota’s Sioux want UND to keep their name while stuffed shirts across the state fight to drop it. But weren’t North Dakota, UND and the NCAA supposed to do what the Sioux wanted?

I’ve tried long and hard to reconcile the two opposites: the Sioux fighting for their name at UND and various high-level bureaucrats and media members fighting for UND to change it. Being a little dense sometimes, I couldn’t see what was in front of my face until a tiny epiphany recently: This affair is not about the Sioux anymore, if it ever really was.

Somewhere along the line – perhaps after the futile meeting in August between North Dakota officials and the NCAA, perhaps elsewhere – the real point of extinguishing the Sioux name at UND was not to protect the Sioux, who clearly don’t want the favor. It is to enhance the supposed glory and money UND would gather under the NCAA’s auspices and thus burnish North Dakota’s reputation as well.

It all makes sense now. On one hand, the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe calls what North Dakota and its allies are doing “a direct attack against our race, customs ... and people.” The Committee for Understanding and Respect, which speaks for the Spirit Lake Tribal Council, threatens sanctions more severe than what UND says it will receive if it keeps the logo.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s members are blocked from voting to force UND to keep the logo by several of its leaders, but a petition signed by more than a thousand of them makes their opinion clear. Even state Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, who’s introducing a bill allowing the Board of Higher Education to drop the logo, states that “a vast majority” in both tribes “don’t want to see it (the logo) go away.”

On the other hand, in a virtuoso display of groupthink, nearly all the educrats, opinionmongers and various movers and shakers in this state are fighting furiously to deep-six the logo. Some have angrily argued against the Sioux (after all, a lot of money and prestige are at stake here in North Dakota), and Grant Shaft, president of the Board of Higher Education, has already implied that the controversy stirred by the Sioux is responsible for Notre Dame heading another direction. So now the Sioux, who our leaders were supposed to be defending, are their targets. Talk about “hostile and abusive.”

Inflaming the Sioux even more, President Douglas Fullerton of the coveted Big Sky Conference won’t even acknowledge their letters to him. Real smooth. But the Sioux are no longer the point – they’re just in the way of “progress” once again.

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