FARGO, N.D. – Thousands of logos depicting an American Indian warrior will remain inside the University of North Dakota's hockey and basketball arenas under a reworked agreement announced Wednesday by the NCAA and the state's attorney general.
The agreement comes in a decades-old controversy that has included lawsuits, legislation, NCAA threats and a statewide vote about whether the school's Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian-head logo were insensitive to local tribes.
The state Board of Higher Education had ordered the school this summer to drop the nickname and moniker to abide by a 2007 agreement with the NCAA. But that plan called for all Sioux logos to be removed from the two arenas, which have thousands of the logos -- including on brass medallions on chairs and a 10-foot sketch in the hockey arena's granite floor.
The new plan allows that imagery to stay, though six signs that say "Home of the Fighting Sioux" must be removed so the school will be in NCAA compliance and able to host post-season sporting events at its Grand Forks campus, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said. The logo also won't be replaced when it wears out in carpeting.
"I am very pleased that the NCAA was willing to show flexibility in its policy," Stenehjem said, adding that the overwhelming statewide vote against retaining the nickname and the expense of removing the logos were key factors in the negotiations.
University President Robert Kelley also praised the agreement, calling it "a good resolution."
The agreement applies to the hockey arena, the Ralph Engelstad Arena, and the attached Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, where basketball, volleyball and soccer are played. It also allows the school to create a commemorative wall within the athletic complex depicting the history of the Sioux Nation and its contributions to the state.
"The agreement by Ralph Engelstad Arena to reduce the nickname and Native American mascot imagery, and to place the imagery in an historic context, is consistent with the NCAA policy for the University of North Dakota to host NCAA championship events at that site," the NCAA said in a statement.
Arena manager Jody Hodgson said he needed to discuss the new plan with his board of directors, saying they were encouraged but "we're still kind of soaking it in and considering what the implications are."
The hockey arena is named after alumnus and former goaltender Ralph Engelstad, a property developer and casino owner who donated $100 million to finance the 400,000-square-foot arena. Before his death in 2002, he'd told state higher education board he would withdraw his support if the nickname were changed. The arena opened in October 2001, and the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, named for his wife, opened in 2004.
The debate over the Fighting Sioux nickname heated up in 2005, when the NCAA listed 19 schools with American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots it deemed to be "hostile and abusive."
The NCAA allowed some schools to keep such nicknames provided they received tribal support. But in the University of North Dakota's case, the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe endorsed using the nickname and logo, but The Standing Rock Sioux's tribal council didn't. The university sued the NCAA, which eventually led to the settlement agreement.
A state law requiring the school to keep the moniker was repealed eight months after it took effect in 2011, after the NCAA refused to budge on sanctions. Then ardent nickname supporters gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the June 2012 ballot, but two-thirds of voters said the nickname should go.
The Legislature has determined that a new nickname cannot be chosen for three years.
"We are pleased to bring this matter to closure," said Ham Shirvani, who recently took over as chancellor of the North Dakota university system.
The chairman of the Standing Rock tribal council didn't return an after-hours phone message seeking comment Wednesday.