Members of the Spirit Lake Nation likely will vote on whether to support the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname, the tribe’s leader says.
Chairwoman Myra Pearson said Saturday that the tribe has grown tired of the issue.
“It’s been something that’s not as important as our health care or housing or everything we’re faced with out here, but it’s been popping up all the time, and I think we need to put it to rest here pretty quick,” she said.
Under a settlement with the NCAA reached last October, UND has three years to win support of the state’s Sioux tribes for its nickname and American Indian head logo. If that does not happen, the nickname and logo are to be retired.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota has said it opposes continued use of the nickname and logo by UND.
Pearson could not say when a vote might be held on the Spirit Lake reservation. She said that if Tribal Council members gain enough feedback during upcoming district meetings, the wishes of the majority might be clear enough for the council itself to decide.
“Maybe it won’t even have to go to a vote,” she said.
Pearson said she personally opposes the nickname, but that “I represent all of these (tribal members), and I have to see what they decide.” She said opinions about the nickname “seem to be split” on the reservation.
Spirit Lake is the closest reservation to the UND campus. A 2000 tribal resolution does not oppose the nickname, though it does not specifically endorse it. It states that “As long as something positive comes from this controversy, (the tribe is) not opposed to keeping the ‘Sioux’ name and present logo at UND.”
Pearson said she reads the resolution as neither supporting nor opposing the nickname. Tribal officials did not respond to NCAA requests for clarification, and the association later deemed it insufficient to grant UND a tribal namesake exception to its policy banning Indian nicknames and imagery. Other schools, such as the Florida State Seminoles, have received such exemptions by getting approval from tribes.
UND sued the NCAA over a 2005 mandate that bars schools with Indian nicknames and logos from using them in postseason play or hosting playoff games. The NCAA considered UND’s nickname “hostile and abusive” to Indians. UND said it uses the nickname with respect.
Leaders at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation have been firm in their opposition to the nickname. Tribal Chairman Ron His Horse Is Thunder personally opposes it, and the Tribal Council has passed a resolution reaffirming its opposition.
His Horse Is Thunder sent a letter and a copy of the council’s anti-nickname resolution to a state Board of Higher Education meeting late last year.
At the same meeting, board members endorsed Chancellor William Goetz’s proposal that he meet personally with Pearson and His Horse Is Thunder to discuss the nickname issue. He is to report the results of his efforts at the board’s Feb. 21 meeting in Mayville.
Goetz, who has said the board should not rely on resolutions and media stories in making decisions about the UND nickname and logo, did not immediately return a telephone call Saturday seeking comment on the possible Spirit Lake vote.
John Q. Paulsen, president of the Board of Higher Education, declined comment Saturday on Pearson’s remarks.
UND spokesman Peter Johnson did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on Saturday.
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