Decision on UND Fighting Sioux Nickname Postponed

GRAND FORKS, N.D.

 

The state Board of Higher Education has postponed a decision on the fate of the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname, saying it wants to give one of the namesake tribes a chance to vote on the issue.

 

The board had set an Oct. 1 deadline to drop the logo, which the NCAA and some others consider offensive. Board members said during a conference call Thursday there was a misunderstanding about the date of tribal elections on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and more time is needed to get the opinions of the new council.

 

“If we make a motion to extend this, I want this thing done,” board member Duaine Espegard, of Grand Forks, said before the group voted 6-1 to extend the deadline. Board member Claus Lembke, of Bismarck, was absent and did not vote.

 

The board has said it will drop the nickname unless the state’s two namesake tribes sign 30-year agreements giving the school permission to keep the moniker. The NCAA considers the nickname “hostile and offensive” and said UND cannot host postseason events without approval from the state’s two Sioux tribes. Supporters believe the logo shows pride and tradition.

 

Members of the state’s other Sioux tribe, Spirit Lake, have voted to support the nickname.

 

The new deadline is Nov. 30, but only if the Standing Rock tribal council makes a formal request for more time by Oct. 31. Standing Rock held tribal elections Wednesday, and most board members said the new chairman and council should have time to debate the issue.

 

“We should allow the democratic process to continue,” said board member Jon Backes, of Minot.

 

Board member Michael Haugen, of Fargo, opposed the extension. He said the proposed 30-year agreement is a deal the state Legislature would not touch and said the issue is hurting more than athletics.

 

“We are not doing anything to bring the university system closer together to provide harmony,” Haugen said.

“It’s time to move on,” he said.

 

Dr. Jon Jackson, a University of North Dakota medical school professor and faculty adviser to the board, urged the group to let the deadline pass because the issue has caused “strife and discord” and hurt the school’s academic progress. Jackson, who does not have a vote, said the board should not be in the nickname business.

 

“In short, let UND handle it from here. You’ve done enough,” he said.

 

William Goetz, chancellor of the university system, did not give an opinion about the extension but said he is worried the controversy is hampering the ability of UND President Robert Kelley to do his job. Kelley has been forced to react to the nickname issue when he should be working on other issues, Goetz said.

 

“I’m concerned that his ability to lead the university is being affected,” Goetz said.

 

Several students at the school’s American Indian center said they were disappointed, but not surprised, by the board’s decision.

 

“It’s disheartening,” said B.J. Rainbow, president of the UND Indian Association. “I guess it’s just going to be tougher for these next 30 or 60 days.”

 

Frank Sage said he and fellow American Indian students at UND are being ignored by the board.

 

“Why aren’t they answering to the Native students and the incidents that are happening? The hate crimes? They are violating our civil rights,” Sage said. “It’s pretty upsetting to me.”

 

Kelsey Baker and Natalie Marcussen, two UND sophomores from Ada, Minn., had slightly different reactions to the board extension. Baker said she hopes it’s a good sign for keeping the nickname. Marcussen said she’s fine with either keeping or losing the name.

 

“I realize it’s a big issue, but we really don’t talk about it much in my circle of friends,” said Marcussen, who was wearing a Sioux sweat shirt.

 

Board president Richie Smith, of Wahpeton, said afterward that he does not believe there will be any more extensions.

 

“Nothing is written in stone here, but the intent of the board is that in 60 days from today we’re done with this issue. It’s either resolved or it isn’t,” Smith said.