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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications, Published December 13 2012

No vote on Fighting Sioux nickname in 2014

GRAND FORKS - Supporters of the University of North Dakota’s old Fighting Sioux nickname did not submit petitions to force another statewide vote on the issue by Wednesday’s deadline, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said today.

The Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe’s pro-nickname Committee for Understanding and Respect had one year from the time its petitions were approved by Jaeger’s office to file them for a ballot measure in June 2014.

The initiated measure would have installed the former nickname in the state Constitution.

Eunice Davidson, a leader of the Spirit Lake group, declined to comment, referring questions to Reed Soderstrom, the Minot attorney who has represented the committee. Soderstrom was not immediately available.

Sean Johnson, Bismarck, who has acted as a spokesman for the committee, also was not immediately available for comment, so it was unclear whether the nickname supporters had any further actions planned.

“State law allows them one year to circulate from the time the petition is approved for circulation,” Jaeger said. “We asked the Legislature for that a while ago. Before, it was kind of open-ended. We wanted a timeline on it so it would not go on indefinitely.”

Jaeger said that neither he nor members of his staff had heard from the committee in recent weeks.

The Spirit Lake committee had led a drive to refer action by the 2011 North Dakota Legislature that had cleared the way for UND to retire the controversial nickname and Indian head logo. Voters rejected that effort in the June 2012 primary, however, and UND has retired the symbols.

Nickname supporters continued to circulate petitions for an initiated measure, declaring that they would bypass a summer filing deadline — which would have put the issue on the November ballot — in favor of the Dec. 12 deadline.

They had until Wednesday to turn in 27,000 signatures.

In August, Johnson said supporters chose to wait in light of several other measures being submitted for voter consideration on the November ballot. “Quite simply, we did not want our issue grouped in with several of the others which will be up in November; issues that were not apparent when we first started our efforts,” he said then.

Today, Duaine Espegard, president of the State Board of Higher Education — which had directed UND to retire the nickname following the primary election vote, said, “The people have spoken on this, and it’s time to move on to other things.”

The UND Alumni Association and Foundation had mounted a $500,000 campaign to defeat the referral effort and promised similar resistance to an initiated measure that sought to preserve the nickname.

Tim O’Keefe, executive vice president of the alumni organization, called the development “a positive outcome” for UND and the state, despite a broad sentiment that wished the nickname issue could have been resolved differently.

“I think it’s clear that there’s a high level of fatigue in this matter,” O’Keefe said. “While they may not like it (the loss of the historic nickname and logo), they are ready to move on.

“We made clear, and a majority of voters last June would concur, that no business — including a university — can operate under sanctions from its governing body, in this case the NCAA.

“The voters made a very clear statement last June, at 68 percent (for allowing the nickname’s retirement), and it’s no surprise to me that the petition gatherers were unable to get the signatures they needed.”

Robert Kelley, UND President, also welcomed the development. “Nothing has changed the direction the university has been told to go by the state board,” he said. “The university will continue to transition away from the name and logo.”