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Chancellor Supports Retiring 'Fighting Sioux' Logo That Threatens Hockey Arena

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The Ralph Engelstad Arena (Courtesy of The Ralph Engelstad Arena)

Bill Goetz, North Dakota's university system chancellor, said Thursday at a Board of Higher Education meeting he will support retiring University of North Dakota's "Fighting Sioux" logo and nickname in less than three years if the school and Sioux tribes cannot agree to keep it.

The school's $104 million dollar hockey arena may be forced to remove hundreds of images of "The Fighting Sioux," the university's 70-year-old logo, if officials can't reach an agreement with tribal councils.

The university, according to a settlement last month of a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, has three years to negotiate an agreement with two North Dakota Sioux tribes — Spirit Lake and Standing Rock — to receive approval for the continued use of the "Sioux" name and logo.

Goetz said he will be involved in organizing meetings with education officials and the tribes, and hopes a resolution is reached sooner rather than later.

If an agreement is not reached by 2011, the university will be forced to find a new name and logo.

A member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council said council members voted last week to reaffirm their opposition to the nickname and logo. The vote Friday was 8-1, but two members chose not to vote and six others were absent, council member David Bird told the Associated Press.

The hockey arena has hundreds of "Fighting Sioux" logos laid into its granite flooring, imprinted on seating and etched on doors and other areas. If an agreement cannot be reached, they would all have to be replaced.

The Ralph Engelstad Arena is the home of the "Fighting Sioux" men's and women's hockey teams, which have won seven NCAA Division I championships, the last one in 2000.

The hockey teams sell out the arena's 12,000 seats for every game and have no plan if the university fails to reach an agreement with the tribes. The arena has thousands of images of the Fighting Sioux logo, but the settlement requires only some of them to be removed.

"Hockey will forever be played at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, but no plan has been put in place if we have to potentially remove logos in the facility," said Chris Semrau, a spokesman for the arena, adding that the lawsuit doesn't address who would pay for the removal of the images.

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Click here to visit the arena's Web site.

The university, with 12,559 students, including more than 400 Native Americans, wants to keep "The Fighting Sioux" because it represents tradition, pride and strength, said Peter Johnson, a university spokesman.

Hockey remains important to the university and the state, which doesn't have any major professional sports teams.

"It's an interest that transcends the school itself," Johnson said.

The University of North Dakota in 2005 landed on a list of 18 schools in violation of an NCAA policy that prohibits the display of Native American names or images deemed hostile or abusive on team uniforms and items at NCAA championship events.

University officials appealed being placed on the list. In 2006, the NCAA rejected the appeal and kept the university on the violation list. The university then sued the NCAA.

"The university has indicated that it intends to use the current name and logo with the utmost respect and dignity, and only for so long as it may do so with the support of the Native American community," according to a statement by the NCAA, the governing body of collegiate sports.

The organization said it "believes that the time has come to retire Native American imagery in college sports."

North Dakota University athletic teams have used an American Indian head as their symbol since the early 1930s; it says the "Fighting Sioux" name honors the first inhabitants of the region and some tribes in the state.

The arena, which opened in 2001, is a privately-owned facility that rents out to the university. The university will take over rights to the building in 2031.

"There's a potential impact down the road but nothing that is decided definite," Semrau said. "We would need to change certain things to comply with NCAA if UND doesn't get a resolution from the tribes."

The university's logo carries a long tradition that honors the Sioux, Semrau said.

"We support the Sioux logo because of the great opportunities that exist between the university and Native Americans in the region," he said. "There's a great tradition that has been built with many potential opportunities to come."

Jay Fisher, president of Student Government at UND, said students are divided over the issue, but he personally supports keeping the logo.

The settlement was a victory that put the university in a better position to negotiate an agreement with the tribal councils, but it's a difficult fight, said Fisher, a senior majoring in economics.

"It's cost a heavy toll keeping it around," he said.

The Associated Press and FOXNews.com's Melissa Underwood contributed to this report.