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University of North Dakota Needs Tribal Approval to Keep Sioux Nickname


The state Board of Higher Education settled a lawsuit with the NCAA over the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname, giving the school three years to get tribal approval to keep it.

The board voted unanimously Friday to approve the settlement after a closed-door briefing from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. If the school does not get approval from the Spirit Lake Sioux and Standing Rock Sioux tribes by Nov. 30, 2010, it will have to change to a new name and logo.

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

The NCAA compiled a list in 2005 of 18 schools using offensive American Indian nicknames and logos. Some 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.”

North Dakota tribal officials have said the three-year period allowed in the settlement puts undue pressure on them. Standing Rock Chairman Ron His Horse is Thunder and Devils Lake Sioux Chairwoman Myra Pearson could not immediately be reached Friday for comment.

“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If approval of the nickname is withdrawn later from either tribe, the waiver also will be withdrawn, the agreement states.

The North Dakota lawsuit cost an estimated $2 million in legal fees and services. Stenehjem said it was paid with private donations.

News of the settlement worked its way around the campus Friday.

Sebastian Braun, a professor in the 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, N.D., 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.

If the nickname is changed, UND would have to remove most of its Indian imagery on its Grand Forks campus. 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.

The settlement includes a statement by the NCAA calling UND a “national leader in offering educational programs to Native Americans.”

Board of Higher Education President John Q. Paulsen said he was pleased by the recognition.

“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.

— Associated Press

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