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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published May 24 2012

Nickname supporters denounce UND Alumni Association campaign for ‘yes’ vote

GRAND FORKS - Fighting Sioux nickname supporters Wednesday challenged the campaign mounted by the University of North Dakota Alumni Association and Foundation seeking a “yes” vote on Measure 4 in the June 12 primary election, which would allow UND to retire the name.

Alumni Association officials have said, at news conferences around the state earlier this month and in television ads that just started airing, that continued use of the nickname and logo could seriously damage the university’s athletics program and ultimately the school as a whole.

They said they expect to spend $250,000, raised through donations, on the “Vote Yes” campaign. They’re also carrying their message around the state, with Alumni Association leaders speaking to members of a Rotary Club in Devils Lake on Wednesday and to members of a Lions Club in Bismarck on Thursday.

In a lengthy statement released by the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe’s Committee for Understanding and Respect and the Save the Sioux Ballot Measures Committee, nickname supporters objected to the claim that “our name and likeness” could hurt UND, its student athletes and the athletics program.

“We resent this fabricated distortion and lie as an attempt to disguise the truth by creating a fear in the public,” which according to the statement has shown “overwhelming support” for use of the Sioux name at UND.

“The Sioux name and symbol instilled pride, honor and respect in (UND) athletes and filled them with the Fighting Sioux spirit,” according to the statement.

“We now find 80 years of tradition and culture under a senseless attack by those who have previously embraced these traditions and culture. This is an attack at the heart and soul of UND from within.”

Other diehard nickname supporters, including some UND alumni, have sharply criticized Tim O’Keefe, executive vice president of the alumni groups, for “abandoning” a nickname he once heartily supported and a logo he wore as a UND Fighting Sioux hockey player.

But at news conferences in Grand Forks, Fargo, Bismarck and Minot on May 1, O’Keefe said “It’s not about the preference anymore. It’s about the price that (UND) will pay if we’re forced to keep the nickname.”

Rick Burgum, chairman of the UND Foundation, also spoke at the news conferences. “Like so many other Sioux fans, I’m not happy that we have to retire the Fighting Sioux name,” he said. “But the price of keeping the nickname is too great. We must allow UND to move on.”

On Wednesday, O’Keefe said he and others at the Alumni Association “share their frustration, understand their passion. There is nothing but respect for the Spirit Lake Tribe, and those in anguish” over retirement of the Sioux nickname.

“However, neither our emotion nor theirs can override the facts,” he said.

“The UND Athletic Department and 100 percent of the 16 head coaches representing 19 men’s and women’s sports are in unanimous support of ‘Vote Yes on Measure 4,’ allowing UND to retire the name and logo” due to concerns about recruiting, scheduling and other matters that could be affected by NCAA sanctions.

Issue fatigue

In their statement, nickname supporters acknowledged “the people’s fatigue” over the nickname issue, which goes back decades and has been especially roiling the past few years — at the Legislature, in state and federal courts and on the campaign trail, as well as on campus.

“This debate has been drawn out and has become tiring and fatiguing for the public,” according to the statement issued late Wednesday. “We have repeatedly asked for a seat at the table, but have always been denied. … The premise (of the debate) has moved from (whether the use of the name was) hostile and abusive to now one of an 80-year brand hurting UND and its athletics.”

The statement cites what it calls “distortions” of the truth concerning the impact NCAA sanctions may have on UND, and it criticizes the Alumni Association for planning to spend as much as $250,000 to secure a “yes” vote next month.

“We have always stood on truth and principle,” the release states. “Truth and principle are ideals which don’t need a $250,000 publicity campaign to sell.”