Arena effort to solve nickname dispute draws fire 8-07

Grand Forks, North Dakota (AP) - Ralph Engelstad Arena officials say they are seeking a diplomatic end to the University of North Dakota “Fighting Sioux” nickname dispute, but American Indian leaders say the arena’s approach has lacked diplomacy.

The arena on the UND campus, which is managed by an independent board, early this summer hired Cheyenne River Sioux member Sam Dupris, of Minneapolis, to meet with Sioux officials in North Dakota.

Arena general manager Jody Hodgson said the goal of Dupris’ visits was for arena officials to gain a better understanding of tribal leaders’ opinions about the Sioux nickname, not to pressure those leaders to throw their support behind the nickname.

However, Spirit Lake Nation Chairwoman Myra Pearson said that when she met with Dupris on July 18, he encouraged her to rethink the Tribal Council’s 2000 resolution concerning the Sioux nickname and asked her to advocate for the nickname with Standing Rock Sioux officials.

The NCAA considers UND’s nickname “hostile and abusive” to American Indians and has said UND may not host postseason tournaments or use the nickname as a tournament participant. UND has sued the NCAA.

Some schools around the country that faced similar NCAA sanctions have received a waiver from the association, usually by gaining the support of a nearby namesake Indian tribe.

UND has touted the Spirit Lake resolution as evidence of the same kind of namesake tribe support that won NCAA waivers for the Florida State University Seminoles and the Central Michigan University Chippewas. The resolution states “as long as something positive comes from this controversy, (the tribe is) not opposed to keeping the Sioux name and present logo at UND.”

The NCAA has called the resolution insufficient evidence of approval without clarification from the tribe. Spirit Lake officials have not responded to NCAA requests for clarification.

Pearson said she reads the 2000 resolution as neither supporting nor opposing the nickname. She said she does not plan to respond to the NCAA’s requests and does not expect the Tribal Council to take up the nickname issue again.

“I feel like there’s nothing more to say,” Pearson said. “I told (Dupris) it’s not a priority for me. There are more important issues to deal with.”

David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, said that in a July 19 meeting, Dupris suggested that Pearson was willing to reconsider Spirit Lake’s position on the nickname. Gipp said he later called Pearson and found out the suggestion was incorrect.

Hodgson said he would not comment on the conversation between Dupris and Pearson because he was not present when it occurred. Dupris did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. Hodgson said Dupris did not wish to comment publicly on his role with the arena.

Hodgson described Dupris’ effort as being a diplomatic one.

“We’re opening up the lines of communication that were closed by the lawsuit,” Hodgson said. “The legal front continues, but this is a parallel track.”