- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2011

Make room for one more chapter in the saga of the Fighting Sioux, better known as the nickname that would not die.

Six American Indian students from the University of North Dakota announced Thursday that they have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s recently enacted Fighting Sioux law, which says the university must retain the hotly debated nickname and logo. They want a court order directing the state Board of Higher education and UND to drop it for good.

Meanwhile, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple is leading a delegation of state legislators scheduled to meet Friday with officials from the National Collegiate Athletic Association at their headquarters in Indianapolis.

The only item on the agenda: What to do about the Fighting Sioux, a nickname and logo banned by the NCAA but now mandatory under North Dakota law.

The Fighting Sioux appeared to have gasped its last breath in April 2010, when the state Board of Higher Education voted to discontinue the nickname and logo after years of wrangling over the controversial nickname.

But in March, the Republican-controlled state Legislature voted overwhelmingly to require the university to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. The Republican governor signed the bill shortly thereafter.

NCAA Executive Vice President Bernard Franklin responded with a letter to University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley saying that the university “cannot change the NCAA policy” and reminding him that it signed an agreement in 2007 to retire the nickname unless it received the blessing of the state’s two Sioux tribes.

The university won the endorsement of the Spirit Lake Sioux, which voted to support the nickname in a tribal referendum. The Standing Rock Sioux has never held a tribal vote, but its tribal council voted years ago to oppose the nickname and has not changed its stance.

In 2005, the NCAA issued a list of 18 university mascots deemed “hostile and abusive.” The schools were ordered to change their mascots unless they received approval from the namesake tribes or face sanctions. The only university still wrestling with the issue is the University of North Dakota.

Once the law takes effect Aug. 22, the university could be banned from hosting NCAA postseason games and wearing the nickname and logo on its uniforms during postseason play - a huge blow for a university whose Division I hockey team is regularly ranked among the top programs in the nation.

Mr. Dalrymple told the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that the delegation hopes to persuade the NCAA to eliminate or modify its sanctions.

The delegation “will make the case that the people of North Dakota have always been respectful of the Sioux Indians, and the Indians support the logo,” said Mr. Dalrymple.

Other members of the delegation include state Sen. David Hogue, state House Majority Leader Al Carlson, the most visible supporter of the bill to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname, and state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who negotiated the 2007 settlement.

The delegation was originally scheduled to meet in July, but the meeting was postponed after Senate Majority Leader Robert Stenehjem, a member of the delegation and the attorney general’s brother, was killed in a car accident in Alaska.

“I don’t intend to say much myself. I want to hear the legislators make their case and I want to hear with my own ears the NCAA response, and then we’ll see where that leads,” said Mr. Dalrymple.

Changing the mind of NCAA officials won’t be easy. Mr. Franklin’s letter states that the law will have an effect on the mascot policy or the state’s 2007 agreement.

The state “didn’t obtain necessary support from the identified Sioux tribes,” Mr. Franklin said in his letter.

University spokesman Peter Johnson said UND officials were hoping for some sort of resolution or clarification. The university president will also attend the meeting.

“It’s more of a meeting between the state political leaders and the NCAA to see if there’s any room there,” said Mr. Johnson. “What we hope would come out of it is some degree of clarity.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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