« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published June 13 2012

Both sides determined to move on in Fighting SIoux nickname dispute

GRAND FORKS – Many of the headlines suggested it’s over.

“Dispute over N.D. Fighting Sioux nickname nears end,” the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Wednesday, and newspapers around the country echoed that.

But is it the end?

Tuesday’s vote on whether UND should keep or retire the Sioux name resulted in an overwhelming statement that it should go. Every county but one voted to signal, if in many cases with regret and lingering anger toward the NCAA, that it’s time for the university, its teams and its fans to move on.

The majority for dropping the nickname exceeded 70 percent in Cass, Burleigh and Grand Forks counties and topped 60 percent in most of the rest. The vote on both reservations was for the story to end.

But Archie Fool Bear, nickname champion at Standing Rock, and Eunice Davidson, his counterpart at Spirit Lake, insist they will go on with their campaign for an initiated measure to engrave the nickname in the state constitution.

“I will continue,” Fool Bear said Wednesday. “I’m still proud of who I am, still proud to be Sioux. I’m not going to go away.

“We might have to rethink our strategy,” he said. “We’ll have to see if people can help us with donations” to avoid being hugely outspent, as they were on Measure 4. The UND Alumni Association and Foundation, taking the lead to urge a “yes” vote, raised and spent about $250,000.

“We don’t have that kind of a resource, which allowed them to tell lies about UND and how it was being ‘hurt,’ and about how we dedicated that name to UND” in a 1969 ceremony, Fool Bear said.

Tim O’Keefe, CEO of the alumni organization, said he hopes Fool Bear and others “will honor the will of the people of North Dakota … and allow the rebuilding process to begin.”

But if the petition drive for a constitutional amendment continues, “we will be there to protect the university and its student-athletes,” he said.

Board to consider renewed transition

Grant Shaft, president of the state Board of Higher Education, said he will ask the board at its meeting in Fargo today for permission to add the nickname issue to the agenda and “direct UND to resume retirement of the name and logo.”

He said the university had largely completed the transition before petitions were filed forcing Tuesday’s vote, and he had “nothing significant in mind” for administrators to do.

“We need to address the issue of the REA,” he said, referring to Ralph Engelstad Arena and provisions in the 2007 settlement agreement with the NCAA concerning Sioux logos and other nickname-related adornments there. The NCAA has indicated a willingness to revisit the requirements with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and REA officials.

Shaft said he would be “disappointed” if people trying to save the nickname proceed with an initiated measure. “Given the results (Tuesday), another effort would only serve to perpetuate a cloud over the university.”

Scott Hennen, the Fargo-based radio talk-show host who advocated for the effort to preserve the nickname, is among those who predict the struggle will go on.

The American Indians who favor UND using the Sioux name “are going to continue to fight,” he said. “They’ve got a big mountain to move, no question. But their passion is fearless, and I’m with them. I’m not relenting and giving in to the NCAA. You never give in to a bully.”

But conservative blogger Rob Port (www.sayanything

blog.com), also an advocate for trying to save the name, indicated that he believes the struggle is over.

“It was a valiant fight, but it’s time for the Sioux nickname to go,” he wrote Tuesday night. “I’ll not be supporting the constitutional measure.

“I’m sad to see this outcome, and it’s not without some bitterness,” Port wrote. “I don’t think that the state’s higher ed officials have dealt with this issue in good faith. Even as they pointed their fingers at the NCAA they worked long and hard behind the scenes to undermine the nickname.

“I also feel for the Sioux Indians. … They were told for years that their opinion mattered on the nickname, that it was all about honoring them, yet at the end we learned the truth. It was never really about them.”

Standing Rock vote split, light

In Sioux County, which is the North Dakota portion of the Standing Rock reservation, only 343 votes were cast on Measure 4, with a slight majority – 184 votes to 159 – for retirement.

That was a blow to nickname supporters, who had tried to arrange a reservation vote to meet the NCAA’s requirements for UND keeping the name. They had presented petitions with more than 1,000 signatures to the Tribal Council asking for a referendum, while Standing Rock members who oppose the nickname presented their own petition, also with more than 1,000 signatures, urging the council to stand by previous resolutions opposing its use.

In its settlement with the NCAA, UND agreed to drop the nickname if it couldn’t get approval from the two namesake tribes within three years. Spirit Lake voted in 2009 to authorize use of the Sioux name, but the deadline came with no endorsement from Standing Rock.

The vote for retirement of the nickname carried with 67 percent support in Eddy County and 64 percent in Benson County, which contain most of the Spirit Lake reservation. In Fort Totten, the principal reservation town, voter turnout was light and favored retirement.

Cedric Good House, an enrolled member at Standing Rock who supported UND using the Sioux name, said some people there were turned off by “personalities fighting each other” and resentment that “Indians were not allowed at the table” in negotiations with the NCAA.

“Now it’s a sports issue,” he said, a fear that keeping the name would hurt UND athletics, “and it doesn’t matter what Indians think. I want to be for it, but they laugh me off and say, ‘You don’t matter.’ ”

Fool Bear said the wording on the ballot confused some voters – two people called him to proudly report they had “voted yes, for the nickname” – and the Alumni Association campaign “used fear” to scare potential voters.


Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send a letter to the editor.


Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald