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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications, Published May 16 2012

Nickname supporters vow to keep fighting till June 12 vote

GRAND FORKS – People working to persuade North Dakota voters to allow retirement of UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname next month say they’re encouraged by poll results released Wednesday showing their side with an edge among likely voters.

But leaders of the effort to require UND to keep the historic name and logo vow they will continue the fight through to the June 12 primary election.

“It’s nice to know what the score is, anyway,” said Reed Soderstrom, the Minot attorney who led the petition drive to refer legislative action that had opened the door for the nickname’s retirement.

“I wish it was better in our favor, of course,” he said. “But I still have hope.”

So does Eunice Davidson, of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe’s pro-nickname Committee for Understanding and Respect.

“We’re not going to give up,” she said. “We’re going to be out there campaigning, and I am still confident that people will reject the NCAA coming into our state and telling us what to do.

“At some point, you have to stand up and fight for what you believe in, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

The telephone survey of 500 likely voters was commissioned by Forum Communications Co. It found that 56 percent said they would vote “yes” on Measure 4 – to allow retirement of the name – if the election were held now.

“If I had guessed about the results, I would have guessed that number (56 percent) out of Grand Forks, but not statewide,” Soderstrom said.

The majority for Measure 4 in Grand Forks County was 69 percent, according to the poll.

‘Fire in belly’

Tim O’Keefe, leader of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, said the results of the Forum Communications poll mirrored those of a survey commissioned by the association, and he said he was pleased to see that “our message is getting out.”

O’Keefe and other alumni leaders traveled the state on May 1 to declare they would take the lead in urging a “yes” vote on Measure 4 because of the “negative impact” that NCAA sanctions are having and will have on UND.

“Those who suggest this impact is minimal are not listening to our coaches or looking into the detail associated with the facts very closely,” he said.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader and author of the law requiring UND to keep the nickname, said the other measures on the ballot – especially the proposal to eliminate property taxes – will ensure a big voter turnout on June 12, and that could shake things up.

“We’ll see who has the most fire in their belly,” Carlson said.

He said that “if the people vote to get rid of the name, it’s over,” though he wonders “what will happen if both (Sioux) reservations vote in favor” of UND keeping the name and logo.

His bill was passed by large majorities in both chambers last year, but the law was repealed in November after state and higher education officials failed to persuade the NCAA to ease off threatened sanctions. Nickname supporters mounted a campaign to “repeal the repeal,” which led to the June 12 referral vote.

“As far as the Legislature goes, we’ve been removed from the process,” Carlson said. “The citizens have brought it back. If they vote to keep it, there’s probably another chapter. But if it goes down, there’s no question it’s over as far as the Legislature is concerned.”

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Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald