- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

FARGO, N.D. — Voters cast ballots Tuesday to resolve a bitter dispute over the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname, even as supporters of the moniker promised to resume the battle this fall regardless of the outcome.

The issue has been simmering for decades, dividing the state, sports fans, alumni and even area tribes. But it boiled over seven years ago when UND was placed on a list of schools with American Indian nicknames that the NCAA deemed hostile and abusive. Those colleges were told to dump the names or risk sanctions against their athletic teams.

Voters in Tuesday’s North Dakota primary are being asked whether to uphold or reject the Legislature’s repeal of a state law requiring the school to use the nickname and American Indian head logo.

Andrea Eagle Pipe, 26, a criminal justice major at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, said she’s Sioux and doesn’t find the name offensive.

“A lot of people don’t like it, but I don’t have a problem with it,” she said, adding that her high school in Red Lodge, Mont., agreed to shed its 70-year-old Redskins nickname in 2011 because of NCAA pressure. She said she would vote to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname after classes Tuesday.

The university first adopted Sioux as its nickname in 1930; the ‘Fighting’ portion wasn’t added until the 1960s.

Interest in the vote was intense, with one election inspector saying she had not seen such a high early turnout outside of a presidential election in 20 years of service.

“The measures are bringing people to the polls,” said Margaret Swenson, at a tribal college in Bismarck.

A “yes” vote would retire the nickname, but perhaps only temporarily.

A group called the Committee for Understanding and Respect has been circulating petitions for a second referendum that would change the state constitution to declare UND forever be known as the Fighting Sioux.

“Our second phase, and our ultimate goal, is the November ballot,” the group said in a statement.

The NCAA says it will ban any schools with hostile or abusive nicknames or logos from hosting playoffs. The ban would make scheduling difficult and coaches say it would hurt a team’s ability to recruit.

At the Bismarck Civic Center early Tuesday, 33-year-old Dawn Kopp a graduate of North Dakota State University in Fargo voted to dump the nickname.

“Even though I went to a rival school, I don’t want UND to lose their chance of competing,” she said.

Brian Saylor, 37, agreed.

“I supported the UND nickname for a long time, but now it’s time to move on,” he said.

Sean Johnson, spokesman for the nickname supporters, said his group will “keep plugging away” on the second referendum no matter what happens during Tuesday’s primary. He predicted the vote would be close.

Some schools quickly removed their American Indian-themed nicknames when faced with NCAA pressure, and others such as Florida State survived the edict by getting approval from namesake tribes. However, there was no such consensus among tribal leaders in North Dakota.

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