North Dakota board approves settlement of lawsuit over Sioux nickname

By Dave Kolpack
Grand Forks, North Dakota (AP) 10-07

North Dakota officials have three years to persuade Sioux tribes to support the Fighting Sioux nickname, under a settlement approved during October that the president of United Tribes Technical College says shows contempt.

The state Board of Higher Education settled a lawsuit with the NCAA over the nickname, voting unanimously to approve the deal after a closed-door briefing from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, said leaders of the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake tribes, as well as other tribes and groups, are on record opposing the nickname.

“Allowing a three-year period to influence the tribes leaves open the door for UND and its agents to continue their meddling in the social and political affairs of tribal nations, causing untold damage in the lives of good people and families who only wish to have their ways and heritage respected,” Gipp said in a statement.

Stenehjem, who outlined the agreement earlier for tribal officials, said he believes negotiations over the nickname and logo should be led by top-level state officials.

“There shouldn’t be a huge number of people putting pressure on anyone,” he said.

In 2005, the NCAA banned the use of the nickname in postseason play, labeling it hostile and abusive. UND sued to challenge the ban in October last year and got a temporary order allowing the continued use of the nickname and logo while the case moved through court.

“The settlement confirms that the Sioux people and no one else should decide whether and how their name should be used,” Bernard Franklin, an NCAA senior vice president, said in a statement.

“The settlement is consistent with the NCAA’s firm belief that Native American nicknames and imagery have no place in intercollegiate athletics,” the NCAA statement said.

“We are not going to be fighting this in 10 years, in 20 years, in 30 years,” Stenehjem said. “This is an issue that needs to be resolved, needs to be concluded.”

If approval of the nickname is withdrawn later from either the Standing Rock or Spirit Lake Sioux tribes, the waiver will also be withdrawn, the agreement says. It also includes a statement by the NCAA saying UND is a “national leader in offering educational programs to Native Americans.”

Sebastian Braun, an assistant professor in the UND Indian studies department, said the agreement seems reasonable.

“I don’t think the tribes are going to change their minds on this, but it will perhaps give everybody some time to come to terms with the inevitable,” he said.

Samantha Plante, a freshman from Brooklyn Park, Minn., says she hopes an agreement can be reached with the tribes.

“I personally don’t think the school uses it as a demeaning logo,” Plante said. “I hope something can be worked out, but this has been going on for a long time.”

Jackie Stebbins, a second-year law student from Bowman, said the logo should be retired.

“I think our school has a dark cloud hanging over it because of the logo. It’s time for it to go,” she said.

Ron His Horse Is Thunder, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said he believed University of North Dakota officials should use the three years to plan for changing the nickname and dropping the logo, rather than trying to coax the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake tribes into accepting them.

The settlement will bring pressure to bear on the governing councils of the two tribes from UND alumni and others who support the nickname, His Horse Is Thunder predicted.

“That takes the onus off UND, in terms of Wayne Stenehjem having to battle a court suit, and it takes pressure off the NCAA ... and it puts all the pressure on tribes and tribal councils to somehow change their minds,” His Horse Is Thunder said.

Previously, groups of tribal members have been bused to UND at the expense of nickname supporters for some lobbying, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman said.

“They’ve thrown a lot of money at individual tribal members, by taking them up to a hockey game and putting on a good face, and offering scholarship dollars ... to try to convince tribal members to go home and then lobby the tribal council to change it,” His Horse Is Thunder said.

Eighteen schools originally were on a 2005 list of NCAA offenders using offensive American Indian nicknames and logos. A number of schools made changes while some won appeals with support from area tribes.

“I think it’s important to remember that without this lawsuit, we would have been immediately subjected to the NCAA restrictions,” Stenehjem said. “We had no options but to proceed to court.”

The North Dakota lawsuit has cost an estimated $2 million in legal fees and services. Stenehjem said UND’s costs were paid with private donations and “in my estimate, was worth the money.”

If the nickname is changed, UND would have to remove most of its Indian imagery on its campus in Grand Forks. It could keep historical items and items embedded in the architecture, under the agreement.

Officials have estimated UND’s Ralph Engelstad Arena has at least 3,000 Fighting Sioux logos, including a 10-foot sketch of an Indian head embedded in the granite floor.

Stenehjem said brass medallions would have to be removed from the chairs in the arena. Some likely could be sold “for quite a bit,” he said.

Board of Higher Education President John Q. Paulsen said he was pleased with the NCAA statement that UND was a leader in Indian education.

“The University of North Dakota deserves to have its honor restored in terms of its long-standing commitment to programs for Native American students,” Paulsen said.