Posted 3/16/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
By all accounts it appeared that the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname was all but gone.
After all, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) several years ago adopted a policy that basically barred colleges and universities from using native American nicknames, logos or mascots, that it deemed hostile and offensive, from hosting championship events or wearing uniforms that bore those images during play in a NCAA playoff. And then following several lawsuits between the University of North Dakota and the NCAA, an agreement was reached that if UND could obtain permission from the two Sioux tribes in the state, the name and logo would stand. While the Board of Higher Education did receive a positive vote of support from the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe, the Standing Rock Tribal Council did not take the issue to a vote of its citizens. So the die seemed to be cast that the name and logo would go away, and finally, the Board of Higher Education directed UND to drop it.
But now the fate of the Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian head logo has had new life breathed into it as the North Dakota Legislature decided it was time for it to weigh in on the subject.
After passage of a bill in the North Dakota House of Representatives that forbid UND and the Board of Higher Education from taking any action to discontinue the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname or the Fighting Sioux logo, the North Dakota Senate last Friday approved the bill with Gov. Jack Dalrymple saying that he intends to sign it.
While Fighting Sioux fans across North Dakota are rejoicing, one has to wonder whether the Legislature’s actions will really allow UND to keep its current nickname and logo.
Already, UND’s president has said he would take his orders from the Board of Higher Education and not from the Legislature. So will the Board of Higher Education change its direction and follow the Legislature’s directive or will it continue with its plans to retire the nickname and logo?
That’s a good question. But it is a question that will be answered within the next couple of months.
A more difficult question to answer is how will the NCAA react? Obviously, the NCAA has no intention of backing off its current position. The NCAA has too much at stake to allow UND to keep a nickname and logo which they feel is hostile and disrespectful of native Americans. If a state legislature can overturn the NCAA’s rulings, then they lose their power to dictate to colleges, and that isn’t something that the NCAA is going to allow to happen.
So, the battle lines that are going to be drawn now are quite simple. The NCAA may acknowledge that UND can have its nickname and logo. But they aren’t going to back down from their position that UND will not be able to host post season tournaments or be able to wear their current uniforms, with the Indian head logo on them, at post season tournaments.
While UND and Sioux fans may be able to live with that decision, the NCAA, in all likelihood, will not stop there. Could the NCAA coerce other colleges to keep UND out of the Big Sky Conference or any other D-1 conference for that matter? If that were to occur, the impact on UND would be devastating.
But then again, the NCAA may just decide that rather than buck the new state law, it may just walk away from the entire debate and everything will go back to the way it was before.
So is the “Fighting Sioux” here to stay? It is, at least, for now.