BISMARCK, N.D. — A North Dakota House committee last week supported ordering the University of North Dakota to keep its Fighting Sioux nickname, which the school wants to discard this summer to avoid a confrontation with the NCAA.
The House Education Committee voted to support legislation that says UND must keep its nickname and a logo that shows the profile of an American Indian warrior.
The NCAA considers the nickname hostile and abusive to American Indians. If UND keeps the name, the association has said, the Grand Forks school will not be allowed to host postseason tournaments or wear uniforms at postseason events that show the name or logo.
“We are the sovereign state of North Dakota,”‘ said state Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England. “We take priority over an association. So what we decide on this issue, as a state, is what it’s going to be.”
The House panel debated three bills aimed at keeping the nickname and logo. Its favored measure is sponsored by the House Republican majority leader, Fargo Rep. Al Carlson. Committee members voted 10-5 to recommend that the full House approve Carlson’s bill.
The panel voted unanimously to recommend that the other two nickname proposals be defeated. Both would require UND to keep its nickname and logo unless a referendum of members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe revoked permission to use them.
Carlson’s bill does not mention a tribal referendum, and says Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem must consider filing an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA if it penalizes UND for keeping its nickname.
“This bill just had more teeth to it than the other two,” said Rep. Lisa Meier, R-Bismarck.
The Board of Higher Education already has ordered the university to retire the nickname and logo by Aug. 15, in keeping with an earlier agreement between UND and the NCAA.
Groups representing UND students, faculty and staff have supported changing the name and logo. Rep. Phillip Mueller, D-Valley City, says he believes the Legislature should stay out of the debate.
“I’ve never had a problem with the Fighting Sioux name,” he says. “But the Board of Higher Education and the university, who both wanted to keep the name, have had an awful lot of discussion and have concluded that it’s time to move on. And I agree.”
Supporters of keeping the name and logo call them important elements of the state’s history that honor North Dakota’s Sioux tribes. Schatz says changing them could be costly and could mean losing alumni donations.
Schatz says most of the e-mails he’s received support keeping the name and logo, and the statewide interest in the issue means the Legislature should have a say in how the issue is handled.
Under the initial NCAA agreement, the board could have kept the name and logo if it got permission from the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes in North Dakota.
Spirit Lake tribal members endorsed the name and logo in a referendum, but the Standing Rock tribe has not held an election on the issue. Tribal officials say their constitution does not provide for a referendum of the kind sought by Fighting Sioux supporters.
Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, proposed an amendment that would have allowed the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal council to decide the nickname and logo issue instead of requiring a vote. It was defeated. The tribal council has approved several resolutions opposing the Fighting Sioux nickname.
All three measures will go to the House floor for a vote.