- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The end of the Fighting Sioux could be near as the University of North Dakota appears ready to abandon its mascot over calls of racism despite a petition drive by local tribe members to preserve the school’s nickname and logo.

Supporters from the Standing Rock Sioux want to collect at least 600 signatures before the next tribal council meeting in March.

“We just want the people to have their say,” said Archie D. Fool Bear, one of the petition organizers. “It’s not up to 17 people on the [tribal] council, it’s up to the entire reservation to decide. A whole lot of people have told us, ‘Get that petition going, we’ll sign it.’”

Time, however, is running out.

The North Dakota University System board could rid itself of the controversy by retiring the nickname and logo as early as Thursday’s February meeting.

Last month, both UND’s Chancellor Bill Goetz and UND President Robert Kelley abandoned their neutral stances on the issue by coming out against keeping the Fighting Sioux nickname.

Under NCAA rules, universities may keep their Indian mascots, nicknames and logos as long as they receive the permission of the namesake tribe, which in UND’s case consists of two tribes — the Spirit Lake Sioux and Standing Rock Sioux.

The Spirit Lake Sioux tribal council gave its blessing in September but Standing Rock Sioux leaders have long opposed the nickname. That changed in October, when the tribe elected a new chairman and several new council members who favor the nickname, but a formal granting of permission has been slow to come.

Chairman Charles Murphy has indicated the council doesnt want to be rushed into a decision.

The limbo leaves the University of North Dakota as the last campus with an unresolved Indian nickname. In 2005, the NCAA issued its decision against Indian nicknames and since then the rest of the 19 schools on its list either switched mascots or received tribal permission, said NCAA officials.

“The reality is the NCAA says the tribe can either give their consent or not give their consent; it is in their ball court,” said state Board of Higher Education President Jon Backes, according to the Grand Forks Herald. “We have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to cultivate that and get it to a resolution. We haven’t succeeded at this point.

“I think we’ve spent enough time and effort. … Should they choose to give consent, we’ll find out about it.”

Even if the board does vote to retire the nickname, the issue isn’t expected to disappear. A group of Spirit Lake Sioux have filed a lawsuit challenging the university’s authority to get rid of the nickname before the NCAA’s November deadline. That case is expected to be heard by the state Supreme Court in late March.

“I wish they would respect us enough to wait for the lawsuit,” said Eunice Davidson, a Spirit Lake Sioux and member of the tribe’s Committee for Understanding and Respect, which brought the case.

Mrs. Davidson said the Fighting Sioux nickname is actually a source of pride on the reservation, citing her son and grandson’s love of the school’s hockey team as a motivator for continuing their education.

“That’s what kept them in school — they wanted to play for the Fighting Sioux,” Mrs. Davidson said.

Other tribal supporters of the nickname argue that UND already has permission to use the Fighting Sioux. In 1969, Sioux tribal leaders held a naming ceremony and pipe ceremony at UND giving the university the right to the nickname.

That pact cant be broken, although NCAA officials dont seem to realize this, Mr. Fool Bear said.

“All the spiritual people I’ve talked to, all the elders, including my mother, who died recently, said, ‘Once it’s been done, you can’t undo it,” Mr. Fool Bear said.

The Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, he said, confer much-needed respect and recognition on the Sioux nation.

“Youve got the other side jumping up and down and saying, ‘Its racist!’” he said. “And I respect their opinion, but were stuck out here on a small reservation. We’ve already been annihilated by the government. This [nickname] is telling people, ‘Hey, we’re still here. We’re strong. And we’re going to be here for another 200 years.’”

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