Published May 14, 2009
DICKINSON, N.D. – North Dakota's Board of Higher Education has agreed to drop the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian head logo, a move intended to resolve a decades-long campus dispute about whether the name demeans American Indians.
The name and logo, which is a profile of an American Indian man with feathers and streaks of paint on his face, could still be saved if North Dakota's Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes agree by Oct. 1 to give the university permission to use them for at least 30 years.
However, tribal officials say that possibility is remote. Unless the name and logo receive tribal endorsement, they will be retired for good on Aug. 1, 2010.
The board, which met Thursday at Dickinson State University, voted 8-0 to retire the logo and nickname. UND President Robert Kelley began making plans for replacements.
"This has been a long-standing tradition at UND, and I think the board action now instructs the university to develop new traditions," he said.
Board member Grant Shaft, who is chairman of a committee that has been studying the issue, said the move may help UND's likely application to join the Summit League, an 11-member NCAA Division I conference that is seeking a 12th school.
Tom Douple, the Summit League's commissioner, has said the University of North Dakota won't be considered for membership as long as the nickname and logo dispute festered.
The education board's action does not suggest any blueprint for UND to follow in choosing a new nickname and logo.
Richie Smith, the president of the Board of Higher Education, said the issue would be left to the campus, and jokingly suggested "Moose" as a new nickname. Kelley said a transition team will be appointed to oversee the process.
"What this permits the University of North Dakota to do is to start a marketing initiative," Kelley said. "Over time, I think we would see enhancement of our revenue structure for athletic programs. I think we would see the enhancement of fan interest."
UND sports teams have been known as the Fighting Sioux since 1930, when the moniker replaced Flickertails.
Arguments against the nickname's racial origins have flared regularly for decades. Its supporters say the name is intended to honor North Dakota's Sioux tribes, while critics say it is demeaning and fosters racial tension on the university's campus in Grand Forks, in northeastern North Dakota.
The debate came to a head in September 2005, when the NCAA declared Fighting Sioux as "hostile and abusive" to American Indians and said UND would be barred from hosting NCAA postseason tournaments if the school continued using it.
The Board of Higher Education then sued the NCAA, arguing the organization had not followed its own rules in issuing its edict. The lawsuit was settled in October 2007; its terms gave the University of North Dakota permission to continue using the nickname and logo if the school could get approval from the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake tribes by November 2010.
Ron His Horse Is Thunder, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and a fervent opponent of the nickname and logo, cheered the board's decision.
"It's not an easy step," His Horse Is Thunder said. "And it is full of controversy. But I think every great step in this country was filled with controversy ... The civil rights movements in the '60s didn't happen with a whimper."
American Indian backers of the nickname, who have been campaigning on the reservations to garner support for it, asked the Board of Higher Education before Thursday's vote to back the nickname and logo. Many residents of both reservations take pride in "Fighting Sioux," they said.