- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2010

MAYVILLE, N.D. | A state Supreme Court ruling and a Board of Higher Education decision have retired for good the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname after a four-year legal battle.

The court ruled Thursday that the board had the authority to dump the nickname at any time. The court rejected an appeal that sought to delay action.

A motion Thursday at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting in Mayville to reconsider its vote in May to retire the nickname died after nobody seconded it.

Claus Lembke, of Bismarck, the board member who made the failed motion after the court handed down its ruling, said the board was “giving in to a minority of people on the issue.”

Board president Richie Smith had said before the vote that he thought no further action was required to retire the nickname.

UND alumnus Grant Shaft, a board member and Grand Forks lawyer, said afterward that he believes most people are tired of the controversy.

“There are very ardent (nickname) supporters — I considered myself one of them — who are disappointed,” Shaft said. “I think people have moved to the point, for a number of reasons, that they wanted this to move along.”

Second-year UND president Robert Kelley, who was hired in part to help the school in its transition from Division II to Division I athletics, said he’s looking forward to managing the nickname transition.

“It’s hard sitting on your hands waiting for a deliberate process to run its course, not knowing what the outcome would be,” Kelley said after the board meeting. “Now that we have a decision from the state board, we can move ahead.”

In their ruling, the justices said the board had the authority to change the nickname before a Nov. 30 deadline set in a settlement with the NCAA. A group of eight Spirit Lake Sioux tribal members who want the school to keep the nickname were seeking to have the court bar any decision before the deadline.

The state Supreme Court said nothing in the settlement agreement prevents the board from making a decision before the deadline.

Supporters believe the logo shows pride and tradition.

But the NCAA considers the nickname “hostile and offensive” and said UND cannot host postseason events without approval from the state’s two Sioux tribes. Under the settlement agreement, the board and UND agreed to begin retiring the nickname if they couldn’t obtain permission from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes by Nov. 30.

Spirit Lake tribal members have voted to support the nickname, but the Standing Rock tribal council has resisted calls for it to change its bylaws to allow a vote on the issue.

Northeast District Judge Michael Sturdevant dismissed the Spirit Lake tribal members’ lawsuit in December. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear an expedited appeal after UND officials pleaded with the board to decide the issue quickly so the school could pursue admission to the Summit League.

Summit League president Tom Douple has said UND won’t be considered for admission until the school finds a solution that makes the NCAA happy.

The Spirit Lake tribal members’ attorney, Patrick Morley of Grand Forks, did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who negotiated the board’s settlement with the NCAA, said he expected the ruling’s result.

“The board reserved the right, if it wished … to transition to a new nickname and logo earlier than Nov. 30,” Stenehjem said.

The final decision has been postponed twice, first to allow for tribal elections at Standing Rock and then for the Spirit Lake lawsuit to be settled. Shaft said he doesn’t think it will make a difference if Standing Rock decides to support the logo.

“With the makeup of the board right now, I don’t think we have the opportunity to bring it back for reconsideration,” Shaft said.

Board member Michael Haugen, of Fargo, said it was time to end the dispute. He said he felt for people on both sides of the debate.

“This was never going to be resolved if we didn’t change the name,” Haugen said.

___

Associated Press writers Dale Wetzel and Blake Nicholson in Bismarck contributed to this story.

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